Young wants Alaskans to bank on his new Congressional role

Posted: Friday, February 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Congressman Don Young is urging Alaskans to take advantage of his new role as chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Young said he means to get things built more quickly, not just add more studies to the heap.

''We have become a state of government, not a state of action,'' he said Wednesday in a speech to Commonwealth North, a public policy forum.

In this country, it takes a dozen years of planning and permitting to construct a highway or airport, he said. Meanwhile, Hong Kong blew down a mountain and built two long runways in a fraction of the time.

Young said it's time for Alaska communities and leaders to get aggressive.

''There's no reason we can't have a railroad to Russia,'' he said.

As chairman, Young will lead the transportation committee for up to six years.

He spent the past six years as head of the House Resources Committee. He said he's disappointed he wasn't able to accomplish more in that role, but added he was working with a Democratic president and vice president who didn't see the merits of resource development.

Now, however, he's head of a more powerful committee. With 75 members, it is also the largest in Congress. He said he is sometimes asked how he can control such a large panel. It's easy, he said.

''If one of the members gets a little rebellious, I take his project and give it to his friend,'' Young said.

Although President Bush supports opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, it won't be easy, Young warned. The votes are hard to come by now, but ANWR will eventually be open, he said.

''And we're going to fight the good fight this time,'' he said.

Deborah Williams, executive director of the Alaska Conservation Foundation and one of those fighting to keep ANWR closed to oil drilling, said despite her differences with Young, she's nonetheless excited about his new chairmanship.

She said she'd like to see him expand the state's ferry system and focus the committee on improving transportation efficiency and reducing the dependence on oil and gas. He could do wonderful things just improving Alaska's existing highways and adding visitor facilities, she said.

''If we had an extraordinary bike trail system, just think of the tourism attraction and the quality-of-life enhancement for Alaskans,'' she said.

A former riverboat captain and school teacher from Fort Yukon, Young has been Alaska's lone representative in the House since 1973.

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