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Murkowski talks finance, energy, guns during visit

Posted: January 12, 2013 - 7:51pm
Photo by Brian Smith Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, talks at the Soldotna Sports Center on Friday. The Senator spoke about a wide array of issues from federal budget and spending issues to Cook Inlet gas and exploration.
Photo by Brian Smith Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, talks at the Soldotna Sports Center on Friday. The Senator spoke about a wide array of issues from federal budget and spending issues to Cook Inlet gas and exploration.

During a Friday speech, Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she believes Congress can and will “do right” by Americans and Alaskans in the face of great fiscal and societal dilemmas.

But, the Republican senator said that would only happen if the political rhetoric is calmed and lawmakers can work together.

“There’s no one Republican solution that is going to fix it,” she said speaking during a joint Kenai and Soldotna Chamber of Commerce lunch. “There is no one Democrat solution that is going to fix it. We are all in this together. We all created the mess and it is going to take a level of cooperation. There is going to have to be give on all sides.”

In her speech, and afterward during a press gathering, Murkowski touched on a number of federal and state issues including gun control, Cook Inlet natural gas and exploration, the Kulluk grounding and genetically engineered salmon. The majority of her speech, however, was dedicated to the nation’s finances and increasing debt.

“How we deal with this is going to be critical, but what we need to remember at the end of the day is that if we can’t control our spending, if we can not loosen the grip that our creditors have on us, then we can’t be the great, strong nation that we all know we are most absolutely capable of,” she said.

Murkowski said she would shortly depart for Japan to talk with officials about nuclear energy and tour the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

“And of course it is not a trip to Japan if we don’t try to sell some of Alaska’s natural resources, particularly our natural gas,” she said.

That remark prompted an audience question later about the senator’s view on Cook Inlet gas and looming shortages. She said that while she was interested in an export opportunity, she wanted to make sure Alaskans have access to their own resources.

However, Murkowski said that subject has been a point of frustration — the area needs to be more aggressive about exploration as the opportunity in the area is “very real.” She said she would be talking with regulating agencies about permitting speeds.

“What we are seeing in terms of the regulatory impediments have been extraordinarily frustrating,” she said. “I see way too many graphs and charts about the picture of gas availability for us here in Southcentral and how we fill in those gaps. As a born and raised Alaskan, I can’t tell you if there is anything I find more galling than we might have to import natural gas for our residents here in Southcentral because we haven’t figured out how we can tap into more here, or more up North and bring it down.”

The Senator’s remedy was to “get, basically, our federal regulators out of the way, (and) our state regulators encouraging” producers to harvest natural resources quick enough to avoid looming shortages.

During a meeting with local press, Murkowski was asked if Cook Inlet could be explored safely and what the federal government could do to help considering several drilling operations have hit snags or roadblocks.

“The bigger question is why should we not be able to successfully explore? Why is it that it has become so complicated to get the requisite permits here?” she said. “We have been drilling in Cook Inlet for decades. Why now has it become so complicated?

“I think those are legitimate questions to ask and it is not as if you have had some very negative incidents here that would mar the record. I think it is a bureaucracy and a regulatory environment that is just going overtime. To what game? Is it making anyone safer?”

Murkowski said the grounding of Shell’s arctic drilling ship near Kodiak was a “huge setback” for the company but did not shake her belief that the Arctic could be drilled safely. She said Shell’s actual drilling was successful, but transportation failures were “inexcusable incidents.”

“I think it is important to realize that while they were doing what they were hoping to do, that was without incident,” she said. “Does this mean that Shell and their contractors need to be much more vigilant in all the other aspects of it? Maybe they were focused so much on the drilling side of it and they didn’t attend to the other aspects. I would certainly hope to think they have learned their lesson and never allow some of these incidents to take place again.”

Murkowski said she feels strongly about second amendment rights and questioned the validity of any executive order that would seek to diminish those rights.

“What an executive order could bring about, I don’t believe it is much,” she said. “If in fact the president should attempt to do it and usurp that individual right, I think he is going to have a huge, huge fight on his hands.”

The Senator said she doesn’t see Congressional support for a ban on assault weapons. She said that while recent violence is rattling, it is not just because of guns. Rather, the Senator mentioned other problems like mental health care and prolonged exposure to simulated violence in the media turning youth “numb.”

“This is a responsibility for all of us so we collectively, gun owners, non-gun owners, people in the media, people in the schools, health care professionals, we are all in this together so let’s not … demonize those who lawfully and respectfully own their guns,” she said.

During press availability, Murkowski said Alaska’s Congressional delegation was not done fighting the Food and Drug Administration’s December environmental assessment of genetically engineered salmon. The assessment states the faster-growing fish will not have significant impacts on the quality of human environment and the fish are unlikely to harm populations of natural salmon.

Murkowski said she will have another opportunity to speak to the subject before it is approved. She wants to ensure genetically engineered fish do not make it to market as she has serious concerns about testing, escapement and the impact to marketing of wild stocks of salmon in the market.

“I and a good handful of colleagues were really quite disturbed when we saw that the FDA had moved forward with their review concluding that they didn’t think Frankenfish represented a harm to the consumer,” she said.

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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