U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today criticized the U.S. Forest Service for using the roadless rule to block responsible development in Southeast, Alaska.
"I am actively working to address the impacts the roadless rule has on economic development opportunities in Southeast," Murkowski said. "That's precisely why I brought Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to Alaska last month, so that he could see for himself the challenges Alaskans face."
Reinstatement of the roadless rule in Alaska has made development, including construction of renewable energy projects, next to impossible because of the cost of building both the projects and the transmission lines to deliver the power must be economic.
"We will not be able to build these projects if it means that you can only do construction by helicopter," Murkowski said. "It's possible to do, but it is not economically feasible and this is something that the chief of the Forest Service should understand."
"Alaska is not like the Lower 48, which is covered in roads," Murkowski added. "If you want to install a hydropower project to generate renewable and affordable electricity, you have to also build a road to the energy resource. Our inability to build roads because of this regulation is an economic dead end for communities in Southeast."
The roadless rule is a regulation, not law, which means the Forest Service has flexibility -- if it so chooses to use it -- in its implementation. Chief Tidwell acknowledged that last month during his visit to Southeast when he agreed to review the impact the roadless rule has had on timber-dependent communities and to take steps to minimize the policy's effect on economic development in the Tongass.
Murkowski has vowed to hold Tidwell to that promise.
In February, Murkowski cosponsored legislation (S. 384) exempting Alaska from the roadless rule. The bill is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The 2008 Tongass land management plan was completed at a time when Alaska was exempted from the roadless rule. A 2013 court ruling reinstated the regulation in the Tongass, a decision that is currently under appeal by the state of Alaska.
"I continue to press for Alaska's exemption to be reinstated and I support the state's appeal," Murkowski said. "The current situation is crippling the economies of communities within the Tongass."