Murkowski Bill Would Impel Izembek Road, Undo EPA Efforts

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A bill by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski cleared an Appropriations subcommittee today, but controversy is brewing over sections that would undo two of the Obama administration’s highest profile environmental efforts. The bill would also compel a land exchange to build an 11-mile road in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, to connect King Cove and Cold Bay.

If the state of Alaska agrees to the land exchange, the bill would require the federal government to trade some 200 acres in the refuge so the road can be built, according to Murkowski’s staff. Murkowski has long argued the road is necessary for medical evacuations, and she says this bill aims to pin down the feds.

“We’re not going to let the Interior Department say they’re not interested,” she said in a phone call to reporters. “We’ve already gone down that road once before.”

Nationally, the bill would block new rules defining “Waters of the U.S.” in the Clean Water Act. Republicans complain the so-called WOTUS rule is EPA overreach. The bill would also gut new Obama administration limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.

Murkowski, as chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, is responsible for writing the bill that funds Interior, the EPA and other resource agencies. She says the bill fully funds contract support costs for Native-run hospitals. It also changes the way fighting wildfires is funded, so agencies won’t have to divert money from other programs to pay for major fires.

The top Democrat on the subcommittee, Tom Udall of New Mexico, says he has deep objections to the policy changes.

“This bill takes dead aim at core environmental laws that have for decades protected the health of our communities, our families and our environment. And for decades were bipartisan,” he said.

Udall says he’ll try to strip those sections out on Thursday, when the bill goes to the full committee.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at