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Murkowski Successful in Boosting Rural Water and Waste Water Grant Spending in Alaska

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, announced Sept. 30 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development agency would be required to obligate $65 million in unobligated water and waste water disposal grants in rural Alaska within 90 days of enactment of the Agriculture and Rural Development Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2010.

A Senate and House conference committee today approved the FY 2010 $121.1 billion Agriculture and Rural Development Appropriations conference report that includes provisions authored by Murkowski related to rural water and waste water disposal grants for rural Alaskan communities and Alaska Native villages.

The Agriculture Appropriations conference report, which now goes back to both chambers for a vote on final passage, also would direct the Under Secretary of Rural Development to submit a plan to Congress to streamline the grant process for federal water and waste water disposal grants in Alaska.  In July, Senator Murkowski met with rural development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager to impress upon him the importance of ensuring that the delivery of federal aid to Alaska's villages not be hindered by unnecessary bureaucracy.

Over the last several years, large unobligated balances of funding appropriated for water and sewer projects in Alaska have accumulated within USDA Rural Development.  This funding came under attack earlier this year during debate on the Fiscal Year 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act when it was proposed that unobligated Rural Development balances be rescinded to help finance increased farm loans.  Senator Murkowski blocked that proposal, and more recently convinced her colleagues on the Agriculture and Rural Development Appropriations conference committee to drop a provision included in the House version of the bill that would have rescinded $25 million in unobligated funding for water and waste water projects in Alaska. 

The conference report includes $70 million for rural water and waste water disposal grants for Native Americans, including Native Alaskans, the Colonias and residents of Hawaiian Homelands.  Alaska is expected to receive about $24.5 million of that total.

"This program has resulted in substantial improvements in the health, safety and well being of thousands of Alaskans," Murkowski said. "However, some 20 percent of homes in rural Alaska still lack basic sanitation, and a number of the early water systems are aging and cannot handle the current need. This is vitally needed funding that I was glad to secure."

In addition, the conference report includes $17.5 million for the high energy cost grant program, which provides grants to build, extend, or upgrade energy generation, transmission or distribution facilities serving communities in which the average residential home energy costs are 275 percent above the national average. President Obama's FY 2010 budget request proposed to eliminate the program but Murkowski, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, put the funding back in earlier this year. Alaska typically receives about half of the high energy cost grant funding each year.

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