Although both of Alaska’s U.S. senators voted to confirm Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, both Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski expressed outrage over her decision to block the building of a gravel road that would allow King Cove residents access to Cold Bay.
“It’s the same sad story—a federal agency that doesn’t listen to Alaskans,” Begich said. Murkowski called it “heartless.” Rep. Don Young, as is his wont, was more colorful. He called it the “largest pile of horse manure ever delivered on Christmas.”
For dozens of years, residents of King Cove — a village of about 900 on the Aleutian chain –have been lobbying for a small, gravel road that would allow residents access to medical care through the all-weather airport in Cold Bay. The state of Alaska and King Cove Native Corp. have offered a land exchange for the gravel road The state and King Cove proposed giving up nearly 60,000 acres of land for the nearly 2,000 needed for the road, which would include 200 acres from the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
On Monday, Jewell said that the proposed land exchange wouldn’t compensate for the loss of food for migratory birds that stop in the region. “(T)o place eelgrass and waterfowl above human life is exactly what I would have expected from the Grinch, but not from an Administration that preaches access to quality healthcare for all,” Young said.
Because Young is a member of the House of Representatives, he didn’t vote on Jewell’s confirmation, but Murkowski and Begich both voted yes in April, 2013. Eleven Republicans voted against the nomination. It’s unclear what the ramifications of that vote will be for Murkowski when she is up for reelection in 2016. However, those who are eyeing Begich’s seat have already been making his vote an issue, and the decision today will provide fodder.
Last month, Republican candidate Joe Miller took Begich to task over his vote after Jewell said in a speech that there are areas “too special to develop,” including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She also said that the Obama administration would consider taking unilateral action to “protect” certain lands.
Begich wrote a letter to Jewell in response, warning that he would “fight any effort by the Obama Administration to make ANWR off limits.”
“It is a mystery to me how Mr. Begich can imagine that he has any credibility on this issue when he is, at least in part, personally responsible for elevating the very people to power who are blocking access to Alaska’s resources,” Miller said.
Begich campaigned on opening ANWR in 2008, when he ran against the late Sen. Ted Stevens. His claim then was that it would be more effective to have at least one Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation to fight to open the refuge. That was five years ago. The area is still closed to drilling and it looks like nothing is going to change soon.
Republican candidate Dan Sullivan issued a press release on Monday, following Jewell’s decision.
“This decision once again highlights Senator Begich’s ineffectiveness within his own party. Sally Jewell should have never been confirmed as Secretary of Interior without a commitment to move this road forward.” Sullivan said. “Senator Begich was sent to Washington to work and educate the White House and his fellow Democrats in Congress, but has again failed to deliver for our state.”
Begich’s staff was immediately unable to say whether or not Begich spoke with Jewell about the King Cove road situation prior to confirmation.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org