Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, spoke to a crowded dining room at Land’s End Resort on Friday about her ideas for improving Alaska from her position in Congress.
Murkowski is running for re-election this November against opponents independent Margaret Stock, Libertarian Joe Miller, and Democrat Ray Metcalfe.
Murkowski, who was born in Ketchikan, spoke to the Homer community about how she grew up learning to figure things out on her own and to be resilient, comparing her experience with that of Homer’s.
As she has traveled around the state recently, Murkowski said she heard the concerns of many people. From fishing problems to the high cost of energy and health care to school budget cuts, there are shockwaves going around the state. Despite the difficult financial times Alaska is facing, however, Murkowski said she remains optimistic about the future.
“This is real and personal to all of us. I know that the spirit of Alaska is really being hit by these budget difficulties, by what we’re seeing being driven by a low price of oil and lower production and then you have this added whammy of higher healthcare costs, you’ve got additional federal regulations that are coming at you if you’re a fisherman or trying to build a new facility. We had a lousy season for pinks that impacted so much of the area around here … There’s a lot of anxiety here in our state and then just dump on top of that the chaos and convulsion of the national politics. It’s a really stressful time for us right now,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski told the crowd that while the price of oil has dropped, it is nothing new as it has happened before. She believes that oil will continue to contribute to Alaska’s economy, she said.
“I’m optimistic because Alaskans are resilient. We’re smart. We’re innovative. We are aggressive when it comes to helping ourselves, but we have extraordinary assets. It’s oil that has driven our state’s economy and it’s oil, whether we like it or not, that will continue to drive it in the near-term and possibly the mid-term and possibly the longer-term if we can work on these technologies that allow us to do more and in a strong, environmentally sound way.”
She also spoke about opportunities in alternative energy using Alaska’s resources.
“It’s not just what we have in the ground,” Murkowski said. “We have 33,000 miles of coastline. There’s energy right there, whether its energy that comes from the tides … wave energy that we’re working on technologies in parts of the country like Maine and Oregon. We have extraordinary geothermal opportunities. … We have wind, we have solar. We have biomass opportunities.”
Though hydroelectric plants are not currently eligible for government funding as a renewable resource, Murkowksi, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, said she wants to change that so places like the Bradley Lake plant can share in those benefits.
“We’re going to make hydro renewable which I think is just kind of a common sense thing,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski also worked on an energy bill with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, which recently passed through the Senate. The bill allows for opportunities in the renewable space, more room in liquefied natural gas permitting, more financing opportunities for energy infrastructure for state through Department of Energy loans and to open up avenues for new investments. The bill also addresses opportunities for greater access to fishing, hunting, recreational shooting and contains a piece about conservation of fish habitat.
“You make advances and score wins, if you will, when you figure out ways to work together,” Murkowski said. “This is what I’m convinced we do here in the state. We don’t focus on the things we can’t do. We focus on the things we can do together.”
Among her other hopes for the state, Murkowski spoke about wanting to get another U.S. Coast Guard cutter in Homer and installing a national security cutter in Alaska as well. The closest national security cutter to Alaska is located in Alameda, Calif., she said.
She also has been working with the U.S. Navy recently and received a resolution from the branch for more public engagement of communities when they come for training or other activities. She asked the Homer community to inform her of how the Navy goes about carrying this out by contacting Murkowski staffer Michelle Blackwell in Soldotna.
“Keep us apprised of your concerns. If it is good and sufficient, or radio silence, or if the consultation is checking a box,” Murkowski said.
Prompted by a question from the audience, Murkowski spoke about the high cost of health insurance in Alaska. Many people have told her that insurance is not affordable and that they would rather pay the fine for not having health insurance because it ends up being cheaper.
“We’re not the money makers for the industry. We need to look at a different model. The status quo isn’t cutting it,” Murkowski said.
Anna Frost can be reached at email@example.com.