Murkowski encourages support for ferries, Willow project in speech to state legislature
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - United States Sen. Lisa Murkowski spoke to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday, reaffirming her full-throated support for the Willow project on the North Slope.
Murkowski also spoke about numerous other topics, including infrastructure, transportation on the Alaska Marine Highway System, outmigration and other economic issues that have plagued Alaska.
Murkowski began by discussing all the new faces in the Alaska Legislature, commending the formation of an informal Freshman Caucus by Rep. Justin Ruffridge and Rep. Andrew Gray. Murkowski noted that during her first term in the Alaska House of Representatives, she met current U.S. Rep. Mary Sattler Peltola. The two now work together in conjunction with Sen. Dan Sullivan as Alaska’s congressional delegation.
“We’re a good team for Alaska and we work hard to bring home results,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski’s address follows speeches from Peltola and Sullivan, who spoke to the legislature previously this year. Murkowski noted that it has been a year since the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill passed, which allocated $3.2 billion for Alaska. Murkowski also discussed the return of federal earmarks, boasting that nearly 200 Alaska communities will receive a piece of the approximately $750,000 included in the earmarks.
“We’re going to feel the benefits of the measures that passed for generations to come,” Murkowski said. “Every community in Alaska has the right to clean water and to sanitation. This has led to investments from Petersburg to Palmer to Saint George and all across our state. We’re expanding health services, we’re providing housing for the victims of abuse and the homeless, we’re expanding the shipping channel to Dutch Harbor, we’re taking down the Polaris building to help revitalize downtown Fairbanks. We’re supporting engineering and design, the work on the gas line there, backing law enforcement needs around the state, just to highlight a couple.”
Growing up in Southeast Alaska as a young woman, Murkowski discussed the Alaska Marine Highway System that she feels strongly about.
“The area that I would challenge you the most in today is transportation. We have an unprecedented opportunity to refloat our struggling ferry system. This is our shot, this is your lifeline. Please grab it,” Murkowski said. “This is where I may be stepping over because I almost never call on the legislature to do anything specific here, but I am asking you, approve the matching funds for our ferry system.”
Murkowski reiterated that she helped secure $285 million in federal funding for ferries.
Murkowski also touched on a variety of economic issues, including the impacts of lacking childcare, the need for more housing and the potential to import liquefied natural gas from British Columbia, which she said she was staunchly opposed to. Murkowski noted that Alaska has suffered 10 straight years of net outmigration, and cited a study that said employment growth in Alaska is ranked 49th during the years between 2015 and 2021. Murkowski said that while preparing for her speech to the legislature, her son referred to her comments on the economy as “the tough love part” of her remarks.
“We cannot be a place where people spend part of their lives, only to pack it up and leave because they don’t see a future for them and their family, or watch as the kids that we raised leave here and never come back. Alaska needs to be the place where people want to move to and want to say because they have good jobs that support their families, they have a good place to live, they have good schools where their kids can excel, they have a quality of life that cannot be matched anywhere else, where we take care of our fellow Alaskans when they hit rough patches, and that’s going to take a vision from all of us,” Murkowski said. “We know that we need more workers in just about every field, and that means that we need Alaskans that are trained and ready for those opportunities. I’ve been able to direct funding to several workforce initiatives.”
Finally, Murkowski spent time fortifying her stance in support of the Willow project in Northeast Alaska.
“At the top of my list is economic development and of course, at the top of that list is the Willow project,” Murkowski said. “On this day, on Feb. 22 with a little less than two weeks from a final decision, I am still not certain which way this is going to go. Now know that I am absolutely totally committed to this fight.”
Murkowski specifically thanked the house for their 36-0 vote in support of the Willow project.
“I also want to express my thanks to the large majority of Alaskans, especially those Alaska Natives who live on the North Slope who are pushing for Willow this has truly been a unified, unified effort,” Murkowski said. “But we all know this is a difficult administration to deal with from Ambler to ANWR to the Tongass, we’ve had decision after decision go against us and even this one — a socially just project located within a petroleum reserve — it’s perilously close.”
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