Murkowski threatens Interior funding over Alaska restrictions

By Garrett Downs | 05/08/2024 01:39 PM EDT

It’s the clearest threat yet from the Alaska Republican in response to the administration’s policies.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) during a hearing in April. On Wednesday she grilled Interior Secretary Deb Haaland about restrictions on drilling and mining in her state. Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a top appropriator, suggested cutting Interior Department spending until the administration reverses actions affecting her state.

Murkowski spoke during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with Secretary Deb Haaland on the president’s fiscal 2025 budget blueprint.

“It’s really hard for me to discuss the budget request,” said Murkowski, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, on Wednesday.


“All I can think of is if Interior is going to use its funding to make these kinds of decisions that penalize my state in this way, then I feel like what we need to be doing here is looking for ways to cut the department’s budget until the department gets the point.”

This is the second hearing in recent days that Murkowski used to express her anger at Interior. They follow the administration’s move to block a proposed mining road and further restrict drilling.

Lawmakers kept Interior spending relatively flat for the current fiscal year but moved to cut several bureaus. Congress will soon begin considering fiscal 2025 spending.

Murkowski also tried to push Haaland to answer whether the Ambler mining road could end up getting approved after Haaland said the agency’s direction was not final.

“I essentially don’t have any news to share today with respect to that,” Haaland said.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland testifies.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Capitol Hill last week. She was back Wednesday to defend the administration’s spending request and policy decisions. | Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Murkowski repeatedly ripped Haaland for not consulting groups and tribes enough before moving to act against National Petroleum Reserve drilling. Interior has disputed the claim. The senator also asked for assurances that existing leases would not be affected.

Haaland said, “Senator, the rule includes specific protections for valid, existing rights. … I know people like to say we didn’t consult. … We really have had many, many conversations; over 100,000 public comments were received over this period.”

Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) ripped spending caps imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the debt ceiling deal struck by the White House and House Republicans last year. Murray said she would insist on parity between defense and non-defense programs.

“FY24 was a tough year that forced a lot of difficult decisions,” Murray said. “When we do not fully fund our programs, there are real on-the-ground impacts like at North Cascades National Park, where cuts have meant that the park has had to cut back on staffing.”

Haaland concurred. “NPS expects unfortunately parks will not be able to hire as many seasonal rangers for the peak visitation season. … 2024, yes, it was a terrible year,” the secretary said.

Murray responded, “We all have to remember that the work we do here impacts people’s ability to visit our amazing places across the country, and that’s why I’m so adamant about funding for that.”