Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski often rails against the control lawmakers from the other side of the country exert over her state. So it was a surprise to hear her offer praise for one of those senators at a hearing earlier this month.
Murkowski said that a lawmaker "who happens to hail from the East Coast" met with her before deciding whether or not to co-sponsor a symbolic bill (S. 2341) that seeks to formally designate the oil-rich coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.
That bill, which would permanently ban development on the coastal plain, was introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and is co-sponsored by almost three-quarters of the Senate Democratic caucus (E&E Daily, Dec. 3).
Even though it stands virtually no chance of passing in the Republican-controlled 114th Congress, the chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee said that the lawmaker spoke with her for nearly an hour. He asked "questions about trying to understand a little bit more about Alaska’s economy," Murkowski said.
"I’ve been in the Senate now for almost 13 years, and I have to tell you, I was really quite struck by the fact that a colleague, before he signed onto legislation that related to one person’s state — one person’s state — that he came and asked for a perhaps more thorough review," she said. "The good news is, he hasn’t signed onto that legislation."
After the hearing, which was otherwise focused on concerns about the Obama administration’s implementation of the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act, a spokesman for Murkowski revealed that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was the lawmaker she was referring to.
In an recent interview, Kaine discussed his meeting with Murkowski and indicated that he also sat down with Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) to discuss the ANWR legislation and the potential for drilling in the Chukchi Sea. Like Murkowski, Sullivan wants Arctic refuges and waters to be open for oil and gas production.
"My conversations both with Dan and Lisa were very good," he said. "So I’ve got a lot to think about when we get over the hump of the immediate votes."
Kaine has been paying closer attention to the Arctic region since August, when he and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) traveled with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to visit the area.
"Heinrich said to me that ‘we may be voting on some Alaska related issues — come with me to the refuge,’" Kaine recounted. "We had a fantastic visit, and I came back with a lot of thoughts, and I wanted to run the thoughts by both Alaska senators."
Amy Dudley, Kaine’s communications director, said the trip "was a chance to hear from a diverse group of agency officials and community and business leaders about the complex issues facing the region, including the impacts of climate change, oil and natural gas drilling, and conservation and wilderness initiatives."
So far, Kaine and Heinrich seem to have drawn different conclusions from the experience. The New Mexico Democrat was one of 33 co-sponsors of the ANWR bill.
Yet despite the accolades he garnered from Murkowski, Kaine suggested that he may eventually support the symbolic Democratic wilderness legislation.
"I haven’t made any decisions," he said. "I’ve got a lot to think about, but I don’t have a position yet."