Alaska has always been a resource development state, depending on timber, fishing, mining and oil and gas to support our economy, communities and state government. While there are many bright spots in Alaska resource development, such as new and expanded mining operations and our world-class fishing industry, Alaska faces major challenges in the future to ensure our resource development opportunities are seized.
One of the biggest hurdles is federal permitting. Senator Begich has pushed federal agencies to streamline and coordinate their permitting processes to give developers a clearer path forward with reasonable requirements. As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Senator Begich will continue to bird-dog federal agencies on streamlined permitting.
Alaska has always had a strong history with mining, from the early gold strikes in Juneau, Nome, the Klondike and Cook Inlet. Today, Alaska is poised to see a boom in mining activity with expanded operations at Kensington, Fort Knox, Red Dog, Usibelli and Greens Creek. Mining provides thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenues to Alaska communities.
Senator Begich has pushed federal agencies to speed permitting at several promising mining operations around the state, including Kensington and Red Dog. In 2009, Senator Begich successfully pushed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to approve permits for Kensington Mine in Southeast Alaska. Today, more than 200 Alaskans are working at the mine. Senator Begich also pushed EPA to approve permits for Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska. This summer, Greens Creek will start new exploration outside of Juneau after the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved their work in the Tongass National Forest.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Begich is actively pushing the Department of Defense on the need to identify and develop new sources of rare earth materials needed for weapon systems.
Senator Begich supports management of the Tongass National Forest under the Tongass Land Management Plan developed specifically for the Tongass through the application of the best forest management practices and science by the U.S. Forest Service. While recognizing that there are competing demands for forest resources, Senator Begich believes that a plan developed and implemented by Alaska-based U.S. Forest Service personnel will best serve the communities and people of Southeast Alaska by promoting economic diversification including timber, fishing, mining, and tourism; by developing hydro resources; and by allowing personal, traditional, and recreational uses of the forest- while protecting critical habitat and important conservation areas.
For those reasons, Senator Begich is opposed to the roadless rule being implemented in the Tongass.
Last year the U.S. Forest Service announced a transition plan for the Tongass with the goal of revitalizing local communities and increasing economic diversification throughout the region. The application of a cookie cutter roadless rule will adversely impact not only timber and mining, but development of renewable hydropower resources and approval of personal use permits as well. It clearly means that 10-year timber sales endorsed by the Tongass Futures Roundtable to provide a predictable annual supply of timber to existing businesses cannot move forward. Seventeen out of 27 proposed hydro projects in the Tongass are in roadless areas.
Senator Begich supports the Sealaska bill because he believes that Sealaska has the right to finalize its remaining land entitlement, including outside of withdrawal areas that, of 12 regional corporations, were legislatively imposed only on Sealaska in 1971. Since its original introduction, the bill has been amended in an effort to meet concerns expressed by some communities and individuals.
Completing Alaska Lands Transfer
For Alaska to fully use its vast natural resources, we must complete the transfer of federal lands to the State of Alaska and Alaska Native Corporations as promised under our state constitution and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. There are over 65 million acres still to be patented to the State of Alaska and ANCSA corporations.
Over the past two years, Senator Begich has pushed the Department of the Interior to fully fund the Bureau of Land Management land conveyance program to meet their goal of transferring 250,000 acres a year. Unfortunately, the President has proposed dramatic cuts to the BLM program and BLM is falling further behind in its conveyance program. Senator Begich will continue to work with Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young to address this critical shortfall.