JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker on Monday expressed renewed hope for working with the federal government on oil, gas and land issues, praising President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Interior Department as “just what we need.”
Walker said he met informally with Interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke while in Washington, D.C., for Trump’s inauguration.
He said Zinke, a Montana congressman, understood the challenges Alaska has had with access to federal lands for things like resource development.
“I think we’re going to have a very, very different relationship, certainly with the Department of Interior and what they oversee,” Walker told The Associated Press on Monday.
With the new administration, for example, he sees the potential for movement on allowing oil and gas development along the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, something Alaska political leaders have long advocated.
Walker said he had a fruitful relationship with former President Barack Obama’s administration and said that benefited Alaska. The way Walker sees it, while the two were on opposite sides on a number of development issues, things could have been worse.
Walker looks at the things Obama could have done that he did not, like designating lands in Alaska as national monuments before leaving office.
Walker, meanwhile, was waiting to hear from his attorney general on how an executive order on immigration and refugees signed by Trump affects Alaska.
Trump’s order temporarily suspends immigration from seven countries and the United States’ entire refugee program. It has drawn protests around the country, including Monday in front of the state Capitol in Juneau.
Walker said he understands the need to keep this country safe, but he said it also is important to protect the rights and liberties of those coming to Alaska.
His comments were similar to those expressed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who said U.S. immigration policy “must strike a balance between national security and our values as Americans and that how we implement policy matters.”
Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Republican Dan Sullivan, said he supports the temporary restrictions, which he said will be in place while the country’s vetting and screening system is re-examined.