Halting mission creep
Murkowski uses Appropriations chair to reign in EPA, overreaching feds
Last updated 6/28/2015 at Noon
As chairman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, provides the 49th State a strong voice when mining issues are discussed on Capitol Hill. Her chairmanship of a lesser known appropriations subcommittee that holds the checkbook for the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department, however, also is proving to be a powerful weapon in reigning in what many consider as overreach by these regulatory bodies.
"The Appropriations Committee is just one of the tools that Congress has to direct priorities in federal spending, and I believe this year's Interior budget strikes a better balance and sets a better agenda for states like Alaska," Murkowski said.
As chairwoman of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Murkowski ensured that the 2016 Interior appropriations bill provided ample money for critical services such fighting wildfires, while cutting funds from contentious programs seen as unduly burdensome to mining and other development in Alaska.
Murkowski leveraged her position as chair of the appropriations subcommittee to defund EPA's controversial Waters of the United States rule, an initiative the senator sees as a "showstopper" for Alaska.
Broadly, the 299-page Clean Water Rule rolled out by the Obama Administration in May protects navigable waters, their tributaries and nearby waters. Tributaries include anything that has the features of a stream - a bed, bank, and ordinary high-water mark - even if it does not flow year-round. Nearby waters include wetlands and other watery features within 1,500 feet of navigable waters also are covered under the rule.
"This expansion of the definition of 'WOTUS' is the latest and costliest example of mission creep from this administration, and it is one of the highest concerns for Alaskans statewide right now," Murkowski said.
The reason for this elevated concern is that roughly 130 million acres of Alaska - an area roughly the size of California and New York combined - is covered by tundra, permafrost, marshes, bogs, and other similar wetland areas.
While EPA's potential jurisdictional expansion under WOTUS is of concern to companies hoping to develop some of Alaska's vast mineral resources, Murkowski says the rule has implications across many sectors of Alaska's economy.
"Whether you are a developer in Fairbanks simply trying to build a store three quarters of a mile away from the Chena River, the State of Alaska seeking to repair the Dalton Highway, or a hydrokinetic engineer in the Alaska panhandle trying to supplement our power grid to lower energy prices, the EPA's new rule will hold you back and add to the price tag," the senator explained.
"My language in (this) bill will block any EPA funds from implementing this show stopper ," she added.
In addition to attempting to block implementation of the Clean Water Rule, the 2016 Interior appropriations bill has a number of other measures aimed at helping Alaska's mining sector.
The bill includes language aimed at:
Preventing EPA from placing costly bonding requirements on the mining industry that duplicate similar bonding by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and State of Alaska;
Instructing BLM to develop a definition of "re-vegetation" that takes into account the unique challenges in Alaska, and the placer miners trying to implement burdensome requirements;
Compelling BLM to work with miners to make reclamation determinations in an effort to support the livelihoods of family placer miners and the continuance of the historic placer mining practices in Alaska; and
Increasing funding for the Forest Service and BLM minerals programs to ensure that the agencies have the resources to move the permitting process forward.
The US$30.1 billion bill, which passed out of the subcommittee June 16, was approved by the full appropriations committee June 18 with a 16-14 vote.
"While this bill includes important funding increases across numerous accounts and agencies, this legislation is not just about spending. It is a measure to improve government efficiency and reduce federal spending in numerous areas. It provides an appropriate balance of congressional oversight to ensure the Executive Branch remains within its jurisdictional boundaries so that taxpayers are not subject to undue regulatory burden and red tape," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochran, R-Miss. "I look forward to the Senate taking up this bill as soon as possible."