Murkowski pushes for Alaska EPA region

Posted: Wednesday, June 07, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Frank Murkowski revived an old issue Tuesday and told a Senate committee that Alaska needs its own federal Environmental Protection Agency region.

The proposal for an Alaska EPA region dates back nearly a decade to when former Gov. Wally Hickel began pushing for it. Congress approved the concept in 1992 and the Bush administration issued an order to create a region for Alaska in 1993, but the Clinton administration has never implemented the directive.

Murkowski, R-AK, told the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, that Alaska continues to need its own EPA region because Region 10 officials in Seattle are too far away to understand and deal with the state's unique land, water and air quality issues.

''We have ecosystems ranging from arctic desert to temperate rain forests, including ecosystems that are found nowhere else in the United States,'' Murkowski told the committee. '''One size fits all' approaches cannot be written in Washington or Seattle and necessarily applied in our state of Alaska.''

A new Alaska region would stretch already thin resources for Region 10, which also covers the Pacific Northwest, said assistant EPA administrator Romulo Diaz. The agency instead uses its operations office in Anchorage and a flexible management program to try to deal with Alaska's environmental quality issues.

''We remain committed to addressing Alaska's unique needs and cost-effective ways of recognizing environmental and public health needs,'' Diaz said.

Michelle Brown, head of Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation, said the EPA's approach is not working. She sited situations ranging from air quality standards at the Red Dog mine to water treatment in Anchorage to air pollution in Fairbanks.

Brown said the EPA should follow the lead of most other federal land, water and air regulators and set up an Alaska region.

''Two-thirds of the state is federally-owned and operated. We need somebody with clout to help us, but to help us in a way that really makes sense. And what we have now is help that's not making sense too frequently,'' she said.

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