Senator: ANWR fight is not over

Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Expect another fight over opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling in Washington this year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski told the Alaska Legislature in her annual address Tuesday.

"As Sen. (Ted) Stevens has said, it's not over until we win," the Alaska Republican said.

The attempt to pass legislation in Congress that would permit the drilling was blocked in December. Opponents said the move would be bad for the environment and yield only enough oil to meet the nation's demand for several months.

In a news conference following her speech, Murkowski said supporters still have a good chance while President Bush and the Senate and House majority leaders support ANWR drilling. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will look at it in March as part of its budget recommendations, she said.

Murkowski said the nation is counting on Alaska to build a natural gas pipeline and deliver gas to consumers by 2015. If the gas is delayed, or the pipeline is never built, prices will increase, shortages will lead to the nation depending on foreign imports.

Senators representing constituencies with farmers, chemical manufacturers and residents with high utility bills are calling for hearings in Washington on the status of the gas line.

On Tuesday, Gov. Frank Murkowski said an agreement was reached with oil producers but a contract is not ready. He expects it to be finalized during this legislative session.

"I would encourage you to act quickly, but in a thorough and comprehensive manner," she said. "The eyes of the country are upon you."

State Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said Murkowski was not asking for a rubber stamp.

"I think she was telling us the reality of it," she said.

Pulling strings to get federal dollars for Alaska transportation projects is becoming more difficult on Capitol Hill, she said. The budget for each fiscal year gets tighter. Alaska's delegation is having difficulty justifying its need for unmatched federal funds while congressmen see Alaska having a $1.2 billion budget surplus and a permanent fund worth more than $30 billion, Murkowski said.

Alaska's delegation will still push for the money, she said.

"But as leaders in the state, you need to know that times are changing in Washington," she said.

She reiterated the governor's call for an "educational challenge" to explain the needs of Alaska to the nation.

House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said Washington needs to understand that Alaska contributes a lot to the federal purse with its resource industries, including seafood. More development in Alaska could lead to more contributions, he said.

Murkowski said she will fight for continued funding for Alaska's Village Safe Water Program. The president's budget, released weeks ago, proposed a 75 percent reduction in the program.

So far, the program has helped increase the percentage of rural homes with running water and sewers from 51 percent in 1995 to 77 percent in 2004, she said.

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