Alaska’s two Republican senators have been warned that refusing to back changes to health care law could mean trouble for their state, with potential impact on energy development that is a core of its economy.

Triggered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s refusal on Tuesday to back her party’s proposals for changing the Affordable Care Act, President Trump went on Twitter early Wednesday to complain that Murkowski had “let the Republicans, and our country, down” with her no vote.

That afternoon, Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called both Murkowski and her colleague, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Sullivan told the Alaska Dispatch News. Sullivan indicated that resource permitting and Alaskan appointees to Interior Department posts could be at risk.

“I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop,” Sullivan told ADN.

“I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans. … We're facing some difficult times and there's a lot of enthusiasm for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy. But the message was pretty clear.”

Zinke’s call came on the same day Murkowski led a group of 35 Republican senators in a letter calling on the Department of Interior to expedite a new five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program for the outer continental shelf in 2019-2024.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Photo: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Photo: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

“Pursuing a new Five-Year Program will provide a meaningful review to guarantee that the offshore leasing program contributes to U.S. energy dominance and to ensure some of the most prolific regions of the United States have not been arbitrarily excluded from competitive leasing,” the senators wrote. “We encourage you to carefully review those areas that were not included in the 2017-2022 Five-Year Program to ensure that opportunities are not missed.”

“Offshore development has undergone rapid technological innovation ensuring it is cheaper, safer, and provides access to previously out-of-reach areas,” the letter says. “Offshore projects often have long lead times, so it is important to start today to make sure that the United States is planning for the future to maintain its steady and stable supply of production.”

Murkowski is on the same page as Trump when it comes to rolling back Obama-era restrictions on offshore exploration. But she did not support Trump’s bid for the presidency, and on health care reform she has opposed changes she thinks could hurt her constituents.

Zinke’s warning could set up more confrontation. Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and thus has an important role in confirming nominees to the Department of Interior.

On her home turf, Murkowski has some political security. After losing a 2010 primary to a Tea Party challenger, Murkowski mounted a historic statewide campaign to get elected with write-in votes during the general election. She easily won re-election in 2016, and her current term runs through 2022.




Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.