U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski addresses the Alaska State Legislature on Feb. 22, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski addresses the Alaska State Legislature on Feb. 22, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: Set ANWR aside and President Biden is pro-Alaska

In a recent interview with the media, Sen. Lisa Murkowski was asked about how she might vote on the question of Biden versus Trump. She responded, “I don’t know. Maybe I don’t vote for either one. I don’t like the policies of one and I don’t like the character of the other.”

I understand the awkward, difficult situation Sen. Murkowski is in when she, a lifelong, dedicated Republican, would deflect to “maybe I won’t vote” when questioned about her voting preference. But I beg to differ about her conclusion on policy alignment. When it comes to Alaskan issues that are greater than oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), there appears to more policy alignment than difference.

While a proposed rule affecting the National Petroleum Reserve is noted as a policy difference, the major policy difference highlighted is this interview story is President Biden’s position on oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). No surprise here, as many Alaskans know, opening up ANWR to oil and gas development has been THE political litmus test for decades. Somehow monumental issues like the Pebble Mine get regulated as secondary or not important in determining whether a politician is pro-Alaska or not. But let’s suppose the policy litmus test is broader and includes things like fisheries, Native rights, tourism, infrastructure, and even oil and gas elsewhere. Then how does the policy equation for being pro-Alaska look? And what if they line up with Sen. Murkowski’s own policy statements?

Let’s start with the Pebble Mine. This is from her press statement commending EPA’s Final Determination on the Pebble Mine — “As Sen. Stevens once said, it is the ‘wrong mine in the wrong place,’ and does not deserve to move forward—for good reason.” For more possible alignment, what about President Biden approval of the Willow project.? Approving these oil and gas leases were certainly championed by Sen. Murkowski.

And of particular importance to Juneau, President Biden even signed legislation sponsored by Alaska’s Congressional delegation, In May of 2021, President Biden signed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act which provided a necessary step for getting some cruise ships to return to Juneau in the summer of 2021. Signing the senator’s own legislation clearly suggests policy alignment on tourism. Staying with supporting tourism, President Biden also renewed the Tongass Roadless Rule, an executive order supported by 60% of Southeast residents and 57% of Alaskans statewide. So even if Sen. Murkowski disagrees with this policy action, the polls show that this is still a pro-Alaska action.

On the matter of Native rights, Sen. Murkowski is rightfully known as an ardent champion for Alaska Natives. As such, I would assume she doesn’t object to the Biden Administration defending the rural subsistence priority for the Kuskokwim River, an issue significant enough for AFN to intervene on the side of the Biden Administration.

When it comes to fisheries, it’s worth noting that in December of 2023 Biden signed an Executive Order to Ban Imports of Russian Seafood Processed in China. In a news conference in Anchorage, Sen. Murkowski praised this executive action saying, “I think that this is going to be very, very welcomed news for the seafood industry at a time when they really need it.”

Next, let’s examine infrastructure, one of President Biden’s biggest accomplishments. This is from the senator’s official webpage, under the issue tab Infrastructure: “This bipartisan infrastructure package is one of the most consequential legislative efforts I’ve ever worked on. I’m proud to have played a leading role in its creation, and have many of you to thank.”

Reading this leaves me asking, how does an inconsequential policy disagreement on ANWR out rank something Sen. Murkowski is so very proud of? I say “inconsequential” because we must remember that no major oil company placed a bid. Then the sole oil outfit to bid, an Australian company, withdrew; leaving AEIDA, an organization with no production experience, as the sole lease holder. Not a raging success. Not worth being the primary measuring stick.

If one stacks up these major policy issues for Alaska — Pebble, Willow and infrastructure — and then examines the Biden Administration’s record on tourism legislation, fisheries executive orders and subsistence defense, could it be that President Biden is more pro-Alaska than Donald Trump?

While this seems, a reasonable conclusion based on the actions and statements noted above, I don’t expect Senator Murkowski to acknowledge this. I get her dicey situation in these most politically divisive times, particularly with a MAGA-controlled Republican Party. In these hyper-partisan times, we especially need her reasonable voice as she right when she says, “We’ve lost the better part of who are.”

• Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has 25 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice and written two books and resides in Juneau.

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