Alaska’s senior U.S. senator took an Anchorage victory lap Thursday for an achievement decades in the making, thanking the state’s energy industry for its help in opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski addressed a lunchtime crowd of hundreds during the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference at the Dena’ina Center, offering a progress report on one of the industry’s central struggles in Washington, D.C.

Murkowski echoed the association’s executive director, Kara Moriarty, in saying there was “no greater victory” in the three-decade effort to open up ANWR than last year’s passage by Congress of a GOP tax bill including provisions for drilling in the refuge’s 1002 area.

“This is a reminder that when the cause is right you don’t give up the fight,” Murkowski said.

The senator touched on other Alaska advances, including finds in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and by Armstrong Oil & Gas, saying President Trump emphasized the state’s importance in the energy sector when he signed the tax bill into law.

“He said the path to energy dominance would start here in Alaska, and we are clearly, clearly seeing that here in Alaska,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski likened environmental groups’ opposition to drilling in the refuge to that against building the trans-Alaska pipeline — a project which, she said, has safely delivered 17 billion barrels of oil from the North Slope to Valdez using now-outdated technology.

“Think about how much safer the industry will be,” Murkowski said. “Companies have put in place best practices and mitigation standards that we just didn’t have before.”

Much work remains, the senator said, to make drilling in ANWR a reality, a task which represents a balance of priorities.

“We’ll have to make sure that drilling will protect the environment, protect the wildlife, protect the land,” she said. “That is our responsibility — but we also have to be relentless.”

Murkowski told reporters Thursday afternoon that she supported government regulation of energy-related emissions, but not at the expense of Alaskans facing higher energy costs. She mentioned a mother in Aniak who told her that she was forced to choose between paying her home heating bill and buying baby formula, showing Murkowski a bill and saying that “this week, I’m keeping the house warm.”

“We have every good reason to be the innovators, to develop these technologies to reduce our costs because a diesel-powered community is not sustainable,” Murkowski said. “They’re going to have to convince me that Alaskans, who are paying some of the highest costs in the nation to stay warm, that this is not going to affect them.”

At the end of her speech, Murkowski was asked to demonstrate her hula-hoop skills by visitors to the convention who were informed that she was “kind of good” at it. The senator – who makes a habit of stopping by the hula hoops outside Hoop ‘n Hula Milk ‘n Cookies at the Alaska State Fair – picked up a conveniently available hoop on stage and obliged.

Questions or comments about this story? Email reporter Chris Klint.

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