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Murkowski claims credit for blocking ocean planning funding

Appropriations bill bars money for Marine Spatial Planning Program in Alaska

Posted: November 2, 2011 - 12:02am

A Senate appropriations bill that passed contained funding for several federal agencies, but also specifically “defunded” a marine planning program that some development advocates worried could hurt the state.

The Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning effort has had both support and concern from Alaskan government and industry groups, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration program would have “allowed the Executive Branch to dictate how States can and cannot use oceans and coasts,” said Murkowski spokesman Matthew Felling.

He said the money was removed from the program at Murkowski’s insistence.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, who has supported Marine Spatial Planning, said she was not sure whether the funding restriction would harm the marine planning effort in Alaska, as she said the program didn’t limit state’s actions anyway.

States that have used it have found it useful, she said.

“Rhode Island worked with oil tankers to makes the routes didn’t interfere with fisheries,” she said.

Planning helps various industries and interests work together, she said.

“It just makes sense,” Kerttula said.

In Alaska, the Resource Development Council has had some concerns, but hasn’t opposed it outright, said Rick Rogers, the group’s executive director.

“There’s a lot of concern in the resource community, from the fisheries perspective, oil and gas and marine transportation, when we start looking at federal dictates,” he said.

The council, however, has also recognized that it can have benefits as well.

In a statement the council sent to the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force last year, the RDC said it “recognized this as an important tool to help protect our natural resources in addition to promoting access for responsible development.”

The NOAA funding was part of a package of agency appropriations adopted by the Senate Tuesday called the “mini-bus.” That’s a play on the term “omnibus,” used when all the appropriations bills are passed as one package.

Both Sens. Murkowski, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, voted in favor.

Begich didn’t address the Marine Spatial Planning restrictions in the bill, but publicly praised other parts of it, including funding for NOAA weather satellites.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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