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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation that would officially rename Mount McKinley in Alaska, simply, Denali.

Mount McKinley is one of the most iconic geographical features in the country, and certainly Alaska. It is the tallest mountain in the United States, and we Alaskans are not all that shy about reminding folks the mountain is ours.

Here is the problem: In Alaska, Mount McKinley is referred to as something else. We just call it ``Denali.'' That is what we have always called it. Denali is an Alaska Native word, an Athabaskan word, and its meaning is fairly straightforward. The High One. All my bill does is make the name official. I know the name Mount McKinley has a special meaning of its own to some folks, specifically the good people of Ohio, the home State of our 25th President, William McKinley. My response to those people is this: You are more than welcome to go right on referring to the mountain as Mount McKinley, just as Alaskans have long called it Denali. All that is changing is that the Alaskan name is becoming, technically, correct for an Alaskan landmark.

In the big picture, this is a little bill. I understand that. But I also understand, as I know my colleagues do, that it is the little things that sometimes matter a great deal to communities. Making Denali, the name all Alaskans use anyway, the official name of America's tallest mountain means something to Alaska. Officially being able to call an Alaskan landmark by its Alaskan name means something to Alaskans.

By Ms. MURKOWSKI:

S. 156. A bill to allow for the harvest of gull eggs by the Huna Tlingit people within Glacier Bay National Park in the State of Alaska; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation, the Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act which represents an important step forward in allowing the Huna Tlingit people access to enjoy their traditional subsistence activity of gull egg collection.

The collection and consumption of gull eggs is an integral part of the culture of the Tlingit people of Southeast Alaska, and eggs were gathered at rookeries long before Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve's establishment in 1925. A Legislative Environmental Impact Statement was completed in 2010 regarding this proposal to allow limited harvests of gull eggs in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and the preferred alternative authorized the implementation of a cooperative management program for gull egg collection and emphasized a traditional harvest strategy for the collections.

My bill will authorize this harvest of gull eggs at five nesting areas on two separate days each calendar year within the Park. This would allow a large number of tribal members to interact with their traditional homeland and provide an opportunity for as many as 12 young people to participate annually and spend time with elders learning about traditional egg harvest practices in addition to other aspects Tlingit culture.

This bill is widely supported throughout the environmental and conservation communities, as well as the Alaska Native community. The harvesting of gull eggs would only have minor effects on the gulls, but the cultural benefits that would be realized by the Native community would be great.

It is my hope that this bill will receive quick but careful consideration as the local tribe members have been eagerly awaiting passage of this measure for quite a long time.

By Ms. MURKOWSKI:

S. 157. A bill to provide for certain improvements to the Denali National Park and Preserve in the State of Alaska, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to reintroduce legislation that represents an important step in the conversion to renewable energy sources in rural Alaska and towards honoring the first individual to reach the summit of our Nation's tallest peak, Denali.

Today I introduce the Denali National Park Improvement Act of 2013, comprised of three important provisions relating to Denali National Park and Preserve.

The first provision is the Kantishna Hills Renewable Energy Act.

The Kantishna Roadhouse, owned by Doyon Tourism, Inc., is located 100 miles inside Denali National Park and Preserve. The settlement of Kantishna was founded in 1905 as a mining camp near the juncture of Eureka and Moose Creeks. Gold in the region brought a flurry of prospectors in the early days, but as the gold began to run out, so did interest in mining the Kantishna Hills. The original roadhouse at Kantishna was built in the early 1900s, serving as a private residence, a community center, post office, and informal hotel accommodations for those who visited Kantishna in Denali Park.

The Roadhouse, like many structures within Denali National Park, is entirely off the grid and generates all of its electricity needs with a diesel generator. As a result, all guests and supplies, including diesel, are trucked through the park to the Roadhouse over National Park roads. The construction of the micro hydro project would allow the Roadhouse to cut down their diesel usage by approximately 50 percent, which would result in a decrease in diesel truck traffic on the Park Road, improved local air quality, and less sound pollution in this remote area, as well as reduce disturbance and vehicle impacts on park wildlife, allowing for an enhanced visitor experience for tourists within the National Park.

My bill will authorize the National Park Service to exchange roughly 10 acres of National Park land for an equivalent amount of land currently owned by Doyon Tourism, and would allow the National Park Service to obtain the highly desired Galena tract of land, located just off the Park Road in the Kantishna region. Doyon Tourism would obtain land over which the hydro project would be implemented. In the interim period, prior to completion of the land exchange, the National Park Service will issue a permit to allow Doyon Tourism, Inc., to construct the micro hydro unit.

I want to emphasize how important I believe that this bill is. The benefit to the citizens of Alaska, especially rural Alaska, of reducing their dependence on expensive diesel generation through access to renewable and clean sources of energy is enormous. This type of Micro-Hydro project within Denali provides an excellent blueprint for others around the State to follow suit.

The next portion of my bill will allow a natural gas pipeline to be placed inside Denali National Park. I am reintroducing legislation that I first offered in 2009 and that passed the Senate, but not the House of Representatives in the 112 Congress, which will authorize a right-of-way for construction of an Alaska instate natural gas pipeline to run along the State's main highway from Fairbanks to Anchorage. This bill will provide a right-of-way for a natural gas pipeline near the shoulder of the Parks Highway for the roughly 7 miles that the highway runs through Denali National Park and Preserve.

I wish to explain why I am introducing the bill now, and why, rather than being an infringement on Alaska's most famous national park, the measure is actually the favored route by many in the environmental community to bring natural gas from the foothills of Alaska's North Slope to Southcentral and coastal Alaska.

While many in this body have heard about plans for a large-volume natural gas pipeline to run from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields to the Lower 48 States, the project for which many in this body voted to approve a loan guarantee, tax credits and permitting improvements in 2004, there is concern that the big pipeline will not be finished in time to get gas to Southcentral Alaska, gas that is vital for electric generation in Fairbanks, Anchorage, the Mat-Su Borough and Kenai Peninsula. Currently electricity in Alaska's southern Railbelt, as it is called, is largely generated by burning natural gas that has been produced since the 1960s from the gas fields in Cook Inlet, south of Anchorage. But production from Cook Inlet, while the province theoretically holds far more gas, has been falling for years, currently by about 10 percent annually. A major fertilizer plant near Kenai, for example, had to close in 2007 because there was not enough natural gas being produced to allow it to obtain the raw product it needed for urea production at a reasonable price.

While there are contract issues and storage concerns involving getting sufficient gas quantities for Railbelt utilities starting as early as next year, there are serious concerns about the ability of the region to produce sufficient gas for electric generation and home heating for Alaska's most populated area as early as the winter of 2014-15, and especially by the winter of 2015-2016.

To provide a new, reliable natural gas supply, one proposal, is the so-called ``bullet'' gas pipeline that involves constructing a relatively small diameter-natural gas line, probably 24-inches in size, to run from Alaska's North Slope region, past Fairbanks along the Parks Highway, and terminate near Wasilla, Alaska. This pipeline would tie into existing transmission systems and would bring about 500 million cubic feet of gas a day to Southcentral Alaska. This project could be completed well in advance of when a larger-diameter pipeline might be in service to deliver 4 to 4.5 billion cubic feet a day to Lower 48 markets or a different

project could bring between 3 and 4.5 billion cubic feet a day to tidewater in Alaska before the gas could be liquefied for water-borne deliveries. Given the pace of planning for construction of a larger line project, it is unlikely that a larger Alaska natural gas pipeline will be able to deliver gas until 2022 or later 6 or more years too late to aid Southcentral Alaska's growing need for natural gas.

There are several potentially competing proposals for a small-diameter, in-state gas pipeline. I have just described the ``bullet'' line proposal along the Parks Highway. A second proposal would run a similarly sized pipeline along the Richardson and Glenn Highways to the east, also tying into existing transmission systems near Palmer, Alaska. There are advantages to both routes, the Parks route delivering gas to communities along the Parks Highway while perhaps providing clean natural gas to Denali National Park, while the Richardson/Glenn project would help provide economic activity to differing towns, such as Delta and Glennallen to the east. Now there is a third proposal by Fairbanks Pipeline Co. based on the assumption that routes for either of the two larger ``bullet'' lines won't be available in time to meet gas demand. That project would build a ``mini'' 12-inch line from the North Slope to Fairbanks to supply the Interior with natural gas and not attempt to provide any gas for use in southern areas of the state.

It is not my desire to prejudge the outcome of which project or route should be selected, since that decision will be made by Alaska state regulators and financial markets. It is my desire, however, to reintroduce legislation that would clear the lone legal impediment to planning for the Parks Highway route, that being how to get the gas economically through the mountainous central region of the State past Denali National Park and Preserve.

According to a 2008 analysis of routing options through this area, there are three feasible routes for a pipeline through or around the roughly 10-mile bottleneck of the Nenana River Canyon and Denali National Park and Preserve. The shortest and most logical route follows the existing highway through this entire area, 7-miles of which passes through Denali National Park. This route causes the least environmental and visual impact due to its location in an existing corridor, and provides a route that is easily accessible for routine pipeline maintenance. A second feasible pipeline route diverts from the highway to stay outside of the national park boundaries on the east, but in so doing skirts along a steep hillside that dominates a park visitor's view. A third route proposed in 2009 would travel far to the west around the national park, increasing costs, and potentially moving natural gas closer to proposed mineral ventures in southwest Alaska. Either of the latter two proposals will create a new disturbed corridor in remote locations, and will cause pipeline operation issues and reliability challenges due to the remoteness and the ruggedness of the routes. The route that avoids the park to the east is estimated to cost twice as much as the route along the highway and through the park. The western route's cost has been harder to quantify.

Besides being less expensive to construct and operate, the pipeline along the existing, previously disturbed Parks Highway right-of-way, could well allow electricity generation for the park facilities at Denali to come from natural gas. And for the first time reasonably priced compressed natural gas, CNG, could become available to power park vehicles, another environmental benefit of the Parks Highway route. Currently National Park Service permitted diesel tour buses travel 1 million road miles annually taking visitors into the park. Converting the buses to operate on CNG can significantly reduce air emissions in the park. A third benefit is that for the pipe to cross the Nenana River, not far from the park's entrance, will require a new bridge to be built that could carry not just the pipe, but provide a new pedestrian access/bicycle path for visitors that today need to walk along the heavily traveled highway rather than on separated, pedestrian path toward visitors attractions and nearby hotels. In all probability the installation work will be conducted in the shoulder seasons to make sure there are no visitor dislocations for tourists visiting the park.

For those reasons and others, a group of eight environmental groups: The National Parks and Conservation Association, the Alaska Conservation Alliance, the Denali Citizens Council, The Wilderness Society, Cook Inlet Keeper, the Alaska Center for the Environment, the Wrangell Mountain Center and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance in 2009 generally supported the granting of a gas line right-of-way through Denali Park, along the existing highway right-of-way.

The granting of a permanent 20-foot easement, and probably a 100-foot construction easement, is not precedent setting. The National Park Service already has granted a permit for an installed fiber-optic cable along the same basic alignment for an Alaska communications company. Obviously the exact right-of-way will have to be delineated to avoid the existing cable and to accommodate park goals, such as routing around a vernal pond viewing area located along the general right-of-way. Just earlier this year the 112 Congress gave approval for a similar bill that allows a gas line to pass through Glacier National Park in Montana.

I am proposing this bill simply to authorize the right-of-way for a Parks Highway route soon so that the decision on which route is best for the state and its citizens--if the ``bullet line option is chosen--can be made based on greater certainty in the cost estimates and the timing for a project. Removing the uncertainty of permitting and regulatory delays will at least permit the Parks Highway route to be on a level playing field with the Richardson and Glenn Highway or other potential projects. The State of Alaska in 2010 finished a preliminary study of the project and continues to consider whether to permit and finance a ``bullet'' line project, compared to other options, including importing liquefied natural gas or building other renewable energy project to attempt to meet Southcentral power needs in the future. But approval of the right-of-way would remove a key unknown and allow the decision on which project makes the most sense for all

Alaskans to be made without fear that right-of-way acquisition delays could inflate costs unreasonably.

If the Parks route is chosen and the project proceeds, then the national park may well benefit from the environmental benefits of natural gas and compressed natural gas being more readily available for park activities, cutting air quality concerns, and improving pedestrian access--depending upon final economic considerations involving the cost and location for a gas conditioning plant.

In 2009 when this bill was first introduced, it was modified after initial introduction to meet all concerns voiced by the environmental community and congressional staff and the National Parks Service. The version being reintroduced in this joint bill was approved unanimously by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and added to the American Clean Energy Leadership Act that passed from the Committee on June 17, 2009, and again on Dec. 17, 2011. The provision, according to the Congressional Budget Office, had nominal--less than $5,000 in cost impacts--when scored.

I truly believe there are no environmental issues with this legislation. I think anyone who has ever traveled on the Parks Highway in Alaska through Denali National Park would agree, and I hope it can be approved by Congress early in the 113 session given the increasing severity of the need for power generation in the Alaska Railroad in coming years.

The third and final section of my bill is the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station Renaming Act.

The Talkeetna Ranger Station, which is the home of Denali National Park's mountaineering rangers, sits just about 100 miles south of the entrance to the park. Of course, the landmark that's most commonly linked to both the park and the ranger station itself happens to be the mountain that features a summit which represents the highest point in North America: Denali. In fact, anybody who intends to attempt a climb of Mt. McKinley is required to first stop at the Talkeetna Ranger Station for their permit and mountain orientation.

It is only fitting, then, that we honor the memory of Alaska Native Walter Harper by forever linking his name with this specific ranger station. It was Mr. Harper that 100 years ago next year became the first person to reach the summit of Mt. McKinley.

My bill is a simple one, and it is not likely to gain much notice outside of Alaska. Within my home state, however, this small gesture means a great deal. Alaskans, like the people who call any other state home, are proud of the historical accomplishments of their fellow Alaskans. Walter Harper was one such Alaskan, and his feat is one that will always be remembered.

Certainly, officially designating the Talkeetna Ranger Station--the very building where any hiker today planning to climb Mt. McKinley is required to first stop--the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station is a fitting tribute to the man himself, as well as his spot in our state's history books.

June 7 of next year, 2013, will mark the 100 year anniversary of Mr. Harper's historic climb. It would truly be special for Alaska and Alaskans to have this designation in place by that date.


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