ANCHORAGE — President Donald Trump has never been to Alaska, so the state’s two U.S. senators brought Alaska to him.
In a one-hour “Alaska-centric” meeting, Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan sought to convey that Alaska has resources that can benefit the rest of the nation but that access was limited by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Murkowski came loaded with maps for the meeting Wednesday with Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
“Having maps in front of you, rather than, ‘OK, here’s our agenda and talking points,’ allowed for a very wide-ranging conversation and very important issues,” she said.
When the conversation turned to Arctic waters, she pulled out a map showing the chokepoint to the region, the Bering Strait, and hundreds of miles of coastline that lack a deep-water port or connections to the highway system.
“It was instructive to be able to point to our geography and say, look, you’ve got 57 miles in the Bering Strait between the mainland of Alaska and Russia,” she said. “You’ve got levels of commerce that we’re seeing that we haven’t seen before.”
That led to discussion of why the United States has just one heavy icebreaker and what the federal government will do about it, Murkowski said.
“It was everything from our resource assets to our national security assets and what our military contributes, to again, understanding our limited infrastructure and how that leads to high costs in every other area,” Murkowski said.
More than 60 percent of Alaska is owned by the federal government. Murkowski used another map to illustrate how Obama restricted access, she said. The Obama administration left the Chukchi and Beaufort seas out of the next five-year federal offshore leasing sale schedule. The former president urged Congress to keep drill rigs off the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Environmental groups cheered those decisions but Alaska elected officials claimed the former president had crippled the state.
“We have a national asset with our trans-Alaska pipeline, and that national asset is sitting less than half full,” Murkowski told Trump. “We want to help fill it up in Alaska and we want to contribute not only to the state’s economy but also to the national economy and we’re going to need your help in doing so.”
Murkowski made an appeal for an access project that both she and her father, former U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, have pushed. Obama’s Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, rejected a land trade that would have led to construction of a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula. The refuge is internationally recognized for rich migratory bird habitat.
The road would allow residents of the village of King Cove, where flights are notoriously unpredictable because of strong winds and mountains, to have land access to an all-weather airport at nearby Cold Bay.
“I pointed to the fact that we’ve been trying now for a couple of decades to get a 10-mile, one-lane, commercial-use road to help the people of King Cove have, basically, an emergency access,” Murkowski said. “I told him, we’ve had an administration that decided it was more important to take care of the birds that it was to ensure the safety of the people.”