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Murkowski says 'ANWR will happen' — but not soon


JUNEAU (AP) — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday that drilling will happen in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but people shouldn't hold their breath waiting for it.

That's one of the messages the Alaska Republican presented during her annual address to the state Legislature.

The U.S. House cleared a bill last week that would open a portion of ANWR for exploration and drilling, but Murkowski said strong enough support from the White House and her Senate colleagues appears unlikely. She insisted that “ANWR will happen” but only after Republicans have a firm majority in the Senate and a “supportive administration” is in place.

“Even with high unemployment, $100 (per barrel) oil and an empty Treasury, we still don't seem to have the votes to break a filibuster,” Murkowski said.

Energy development and military security were at the forefront of discussion, and those two came together when Murkowski urged her state counterparts to take a pragmatic approach in assessing what the Department of Defense's shrinking budget means for Alaska.

The Air Force has announced plans to move the F-16 Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base, located in Fairbanks, a few hundred miles south to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. The three-member Alaska congressional delegation opposes the move.

Murkowski told state legislators the move away from Eielson had nothing to do with security but instead was an attempt to save money, which she isn't convinced would even work. Federal bantering aside, Murkowski said it is important that legislators focus on the needs of the state and nation first.

“We should not pit Eielson versus Elmendorf,” Murkowski said. “We can win if we speak as Alaskans with one voice in support of our network of military installations.”

Murkowski said that any discussion of Alaska's interior merits a mention of the region's exorbitant energy costs and the need for an in-state natural gas pipeline.

A few plans under consideration by state lawmakers would accomplish that by different methods.

“I just want a pipeline,” Murkowksi said.

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, asked Murkowski what she could do to help get an ice-breaker up and running in the Arctic.

Murkowski responded by saying that the $8 million set aside in President Barack Obama's proposed budget for an Arctic ice-breaker isn't even enough to buy a porthole.

The Coast Guard currently has one functioning icebreaker _ the Healy, a medium-duty vessel. The country's two heavy icebreakers, the Polar Star and the Polar Sea, remain docked in their homeport of Seattle. The Polar Star is going through $57 million in upgrades and could be ready for duty in 2013.


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