U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski used her annual address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature to criticize the U.S. Department of the Interior over its rejection of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
“I am going to be a hell-raiser on this -- I am going to channel my inner Ted Stevens, and we're going to get this road built,” Murkowski told lawmakers Wednesday.
Murkowski is referring to a proposed road connecting the Aleutian communities of King Cove and Cold Bay.
Residents in King Cove told Interior Secretary Sally Jewell during a visit there in August that the road is a life-or-death matter.
Some of them told stories about sick or injured relatives needing medical transport, and how a road through the refuge to the Cold Bay airport would have saved valuable time in treating them.
Jewell rejected the road in December, saying it would jeopardize waterfowl in the refuge.
"She stood up in the gymnasium and told those kids, 'I've listened to your stories, now I have to listen to the animals,'” said state Rep. Bob Herron (D-Bethel). “You could have heard a pin drop in that gymnasium.”
Herron accompanied Jewell and Murkowski on the visit to King Cove.
"If the people of King Cove believe perhaps rightly so that civil disobedience is what it will take to get a level of attention to this, you're not going to find me standing in the way,” Murkowski told reporters after the speech.
Murkowski also praised lawmakers for having the “courage” to pass an oil tax cut last year that she said promotes investment.
She said the Legislature has taken serious steps to try to boost oil flow through the trans-Alaska pipeline system and it's long past time for the federal government to do the same.
Murkowski said while the Interior Department has sold leases in Arctic waters off Alaska, it hasn't shown it wants development to occur.
Alaska's other U.S. senator, Sen. Mark Begich, is scheduled to address the Legislature early next month.