Murkowski Gains a Second Gavel and Boosts Leverage

Sen. Lisa Murkowski already chairs a full committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but Tuesday she was also named chairman of the Interior subcommittee of the Appropriations panel.

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That subcommittee essentially sets the budget for the Interior Department, as well as the Forest Service and the Indian Health Service. Murkowski says it means she’ll lead the panel that writes natural resource laws and reviews the agencies’ work. At the same time, she’ll hold their purse strings.

“This is a level of oversight, a level of control and a level of authority that’s somewhat unprecedented,” Murkowski said.

The Interior Department includes agencies that are hugely important in Alaska, from the Park Service and the BLM to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and BOEM, which manages off-shore energy resources.

Vanderbilt Political Science Professor Bruce Oppenheimer has researched Senate process and its impact on energy policy. He says the subcommittee assignment on Appropriations adds a great deal to Murkowski’s power as chairman of Energy and Natural Resources.

“That’s double barrels …. That’s probably almost as important,” Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer says the budget control gives Murkowski leverage over administration appointees who run the subdivisions of Interior.

“That puts the chair in a very useful position because there’s every reason that people in the Interior Department want to stay on the good side of the chair of that subcommittee,” he said.

Murkowski, in a written statement listed several priorities she intends to pursue on the Appropriations subcommittee. They include contract support funding for Indian health, cleaning abandoned wells and removing EPA authority for certain air quality permits.