Sen. Murkowski: Opening ANWR remains a priority

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2006

Success may have eluded Alaska’s congressional delegation in their attempts last year to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, but no one is giving up the fight, Sen. Lisa Murkowski told a Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd Wednesday.

Last year at this time, she said, three major congressional priorities were opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, bringing forward an energy bill and passing a transportation reauthorization measure.

Two of the three became law.

“After about a 10-year period, we were successful in moving through an energy bill that has some key components for us here in the state insofar as how we advance those other forms of energy, not just oil and gas which is pretty much our bread and butter, but the other side of the energy picture — what are we doing about alternatives and renewables, and let’s talk about conservation?”

While the energy package was approved, more should be done to move forward with coal gasification for Agrium, Murkowski said.

“We have to have the assistance and incentives at the federal level,” she said. “We can’t just talk about the future being clean coal, we have to put our money behind the technology, the projects and advancing that.”

She promised to continue efforts in the nation’s capital toward that end.

On ANWR, Murkowski promised to continue the fight to open the refuge to oil drilling. They got very close last year — 57 votes — but not enough to overcome a promised filibuster by opponents.

Keeping ANWR off limits to petroleum development has become a virtual religion, she said, one in which opponents don’t want to learn facts that might upset their determination to vote no. But opening ANWR is the right thing to do, she said, and coincides with President George W. Bush’s call for cutting America’s dependence on Middle East oil.

It’s also right because the rest of the nation desperately needs access to Alaska’s oil, she said.

“We have more reserves up north than you will find in the Lower 48 anywhere,” she said. “We’ve got the opportunity, we just need permission to move in and do it. We will continue to push on ANWR.”

As for natural gas, Murkowski said “all eyes” are on Alaska’s gas reserves. But she also said any pipeline project to deliver that gas to the Lower 48 cannot forget about Alaskans who also need access to that gas.

“This is something we will keep our eye on as the process moves forward. It is imperative that we make sure that we derive the benefits of our gas, as well,” she said, adding that the Legislature now has the task of making sure the pipeline deal is “good for Alaskans and good for Americans.”

The country is counting on that gas to come through, she said.

The senator discussed health care, noting about 20 percent of the state’s population lacks any form of health care coverage. For many, an emergency room physician is the primary care deliverer, and that is costly.

“This is not how we should be operating,” she said.

The very poor, she added, have access to other care programs. But eight of 10 of Alaska’s uninsured come from working class families, she said.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where families are forced to choose between health care coverage and putting food on the table,” she said.

Murkowski said she has introduced legislation two years running that would allow families to purchase health insurance with the help of a refundable tax credit based on income. It is not universal health care, she said, but it would be an incentive to make the investment.

Another provision would help employers with a tax offset if they offer health care to workers.

Murkowski also said she was continuing to work toward splitting Alaska and some other western states from the overloaded and overworked 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. She would like to see a new 12th Circuit created.

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