JUNEAU, Alaska — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Wednesday she had a good meeting with President Barack Obama’s nominee for Interior secretary a week after she threatened to slow the nomination process.
Murkowski has threatened to hold up Sally Jewell’s nomination unless the Obama administration agrees to a land exchange that will lead to construction of a road that would provide the remote community of King Cove with access to an all-weather airport.
Murkowski said she spent over an hour Wednesday with Jewell. She said they didn’t speak much about King Cove, but Murkowski told her she hoped Jewell wouldn’t have to deal with the issue and that outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar “will do what he needs to do” — and allow the land exchange before he leaves office.
Salazar is scheduled to meet with King Cove residents Thursday.
Residents in King Cove, a town of about 940 in the Aleutian Islands, have wanted a road to the more reliable airport in Cold Bay for years since their airport often is unusable because of poor weather. However, the road would have to go through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which provides sanctuary to thousands of migratory birds, and would require approval from the Interior Department.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Salazar this month rejected a land swap of 43,093 state-owned acres and 13,300 acres belonging to King Cove Corp. for a 10-mile corridor through Izembek and acreage from another refuge.
Murkowski said she told Jewell that King Cove was just another example of where “the people of Alaska feel they’ve been disenfranchised” by the department.
The senator said she would have a chance to drill down further when Jewell comes before the Energy and Natural Resources committee next week for a confirmation hearing. Murkowski is the top-ranking Republican on that panel.
Jewell is president and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. and has experience in business and the private sector.
Jewell’s background is good, but she will be “taken to task” for any decisions she makes or positions she takes, Murkowski said. The senator said those who have been through the political process, like former U.S. senator and newly confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have been able to develop thick skin. But she noted Jewell assured her she would be able to take whatever flak comes with the job.
The two spoke about offshore drilling in Alaska’s Arctic waters and the need to make sure exploration and production is done “with a level of care and stewardship,” Murkowski said. She said her takeaway was that Jewell is committed to the process under which Shell was allowed to work in the region last year.
Murkowski said she pointed out the “tremendous” resource potential in Alaska, off-shore and in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the limitations to access. She said she wanted Jewell to understand that for REI customers to enjoy all that the state has to offer, “you have to have an economy in Alaska.”