Climate

Murkowski Threatens To Fire Park Rangers In Continued Fight With Obama Administration

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, center, smiles as she speaks about Keystone XL, accompanied by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., left, sponsor of the Keystone XL pipeline bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) threatened to cut thousands of park ranger and natural resource management jobs across the country — including in her home state of Alaska — escalating an ongoing fight with the Obama Administration over its plans to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Murkowski, who has called the Administration’s recent plans to protect 12 million acres of wilderness in the Arctic Refuge a “war on Alaska,” is threatening to use her power as chair of both the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and an Appropriations subcommittee to reduce the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) 2016 budget. The Alaska Dispatch News reported that Murkowski suggested “squeezing” the Department’s funding, endangering the jobs of federal workers employed by the agency, including at the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

At a two day retreat with key Alaska officials attended by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Murkowski suggested that reducing funding for DOI is just one of a variety of strategies at her disposal, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. In response to Jewell’s comment that “jobs in Alaska are on the line” if the budget is reduced, Murkowski said that she is “fighting for access to land,” and “if budgets are reduced and people lose their jobs, then that is an outcome.” According to Alaska Public Media, Murkowski made clear she feels that “a job is transitory,” and land access is “what we need to be fighting for,” rather than “some short-term job for a bureaucrat.”

According to a 2013 economic analysis, DOI’s payroll and other agency activities in Alaska supported close to 27,000 jobs including in outdoor recreation, energy development, and research. Nationwide, Interior had approximately 75,000 employees directly on its payroll in 2013, including 12,563 at the National Park Service, 6,069 at the Fish and Wildlife Service and 6,091 at the U.S. Geological Survey.

In addition to layoffs of park rangers and wildlife management professionals, cutting funding for key programs at Interior could have serious negative consequences for tourism and economic activity across the country and in Alaska. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates more than $9.5 billion in consumer spending, supports over 92,000 direct jobs, and produces more than $700 million in state and local tax revenue each year in Alaska.

Murkowski’s threats this week are the latest in the Alaska congressional delegation’s responses to the Obama Administration’s plans to protect the Arctic Refuge and certain offshore areas in the Arctic. As ThinkProgress previously reported, Murkowski echoed outlaw Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in calling the Administration’s actions “a stunning attack on [Alaska’s] sovereignty.” Alaska Representative Don Young (R) described the President’s plan as “disgusting for the nation, disgusting for the people. This man, this person, has gone completely wacko.”

Former Alaska Senator Mark Begich criticized Murkowski’s response to the Administration’s Arctic Refuge as political theater.

“It makes good political fodder complaining about a Democratic administration and you don’t have to do anything about it,” Begich told Politico. “I understand the politics of this. The politics back home in Alaska is yell about ANWR and you score brownie points.”

Secretary Jewell is scheduled to testify before Senator Murkowski and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the DOI’s 2016 budget on Tuesday, and in front of her Appropriations subcommittee in early March.

Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.