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Trump signs sweeping lands bill with widespread Alaska effects

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President Trump signed into law a package that combined more than 120 bills on public lands, creating five new national monuments and expanding several national parks alongside a series of Alaska-specific provisions.

The bill adds 1.3 million acres of wilderness, and includes provisions that would let Alaska develop energy from federal lands within the state. It also allows for increased exporting of Alaska timber.

Alaska's congressional delegation was on hand for the bill's signing at the White House on Tuesday. All three voted in favor of the legislation.

"I applaud my friends on both sides of the aisle for making this legislation a reality," Rep. Don Young said. "And I am grateful to President Trump for signing it into law."

The bill was introduced into the Senate by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, in January. Thirteen other senators from both parties signed on to be cosponsors.

Murkowski, speaking with reporters Tuesday, said the wide-ranging bill was a major show of unity by a federal government often criticized for its partisan divides after Democrats gained control of the House in last year’s midterm elections. She thanked Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who took up the bill's Senate-approved version verbatim in the House; the bill sailed through both chambers last month, on votes of 92-8 and 363-62 respectively.

“It’s called compromise; it’s called building a package that has some balance,” Murkowski said. “It wasn’t just balanced between Republicans and Democrats — it was balanced between the House and the Senate.”

Tuesday’s signing of the bill by Trump, featuring members of both parties alongside senior administration officials, offered a sign of what that unity might look like.

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers attend President Trump's signing of a wide-ranging lands bill on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (From Shealah Craighead/White House)

“The president was very, very gracious in his comments acknowledging the bicameral support, the bipartisan support,” Murkowski said. “I think it was a visual statement that we can work together; even when we are slogging through some pretty contentious stuff, we can still make things happen.”

Asked which of the bill’s provisions affecting Alaskans she was most proud of, Murkowski singled out Sen. Dan Sullivan’s Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Equity Act, which allows Natives who served in the Vietnam War or their descendants to request allotments of federal land.

“This is an issue that has been at play for decades, and it is one that has been a challenge to address because we meet with such resistance from those in the environmental community who don’t want to see land transferred from the federal estate and transferred to private interests for any reason at all,” she said.

Although Murkowski lamented compromises in the bill, such as one exempting the Tongass National Forest which she described as a blow to Tlingit and Tsimshian veterans, she said the failure to grant land to children of veterans who have died “was just wrong.”

“It needed to be corrected; it needed to be addressed,” she said.

Tuesday’s bill begins an 18-month window for the federal Bureau of Land Management to submit guidelines for the allotment program, Murkowski said. Once that happens, Native veterans — confirmed by BLM and the Department of Defense — and their descendants will have five years in which to apply.

“We will be working with the BLM, we will be working with the different Native veterans’ group to keep them apprised of what’s going on,” Murkowski said.

Alaska's senior U.S. senator also touted the reauthorization of geologic mapping conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as passage of the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring Act. She said both measures contribute to the state's disaster readiness by "really trying to give us a better baseline when it comes to our lands and give us a better baseline of preparedness, if such a thing is possible."

"It’s one of those things that’s really never talked about until there is a volcano or there is an earthquake," Murkowski said.

Murkowski also cited changes to the Denali National Park Improvement Act, which improves routing options for Alaska’s proposed natural gas pipeline through Denali National Park and Preserve.

“When that thing’s ready to roll, we don’t want anything to stand in the way,” Murkowski said.

A list of the bill's Alaska-specific provisions mentioned last month by Murkowski includes:

•   Denali Improvement Act – Provides routing flexibility for the Alaska gasline project in Denali National Park and Preserve.
•   Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Equity Act – Introduced by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, to ensure the federal government fulfills its decades-old promise to provide allotments to Alaska Natives who served in the Vietnam War.
•   National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring Act – Improves the nation’s volcano-related capabilities to help keep communities and travelers safe.
•   Sportsmen’s Act – Requires federal agencies to expand and enhance sportsmen’s opportunities on federal lands; makes “open unless closed” the standard for Forest Service and BLM lands; facilitates the construction and expansion of public target ranges, including ranges on Forest Service and BLM lands; and clarifies procedures for commercial filming on federal lands.  
•   Small Miner Relief Act – Provides relief to four Alaska miners who lost long standing claims due to administrative errors or oversight.
•   Kake Timber Parity Act – Repeals a statutory ban preventing the export of unprocessed logs harvested from lands conveyed to the Kake Tribal Corporation.
•   Ukpeagvik Land Conveyance – Requires the Department of the Interior to convey all right, title, and interest in the sand and gravel resources within and contiguous to the Barrow Gas Field to the Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation.
•   Chugach Land Study Act – Requires the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to conduct a study to identify the effects that federal land acquisitions have had on Chugach Alaska Corporation’s ability to develop its lands, and to identify options for a possible land exchange with the corporation.
•   National Geologic Mapping Act Reauthorization Act – Renews this program, which is run by the U.S. Geological Survey, for five years.
•   Land and Water Conservation – Permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with key reforms to strengthen and provide parity for its state-side program.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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