Senator May Throw Speed Bump in Path of Interior Nomination

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

REI Chief Executive Officer Sally Jewell is congratulated by outgoing Interior Secrtary Ken Salazar after she was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next Secretary of the Interior in the State Dining Room of the White House on Feb. 6, 2013.

Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is threatening to put a hold on the nomination of Sally Jewell to head the Interior Department until it agrees to reverse a preliminary decision rejecting a road through a wildlife refuge,  Bloomberg BNA’s Lynn Garner reports.

After meeting with the nominee yesterday, Murkowski said she didn’t ask Jewell for a commitment, though she made it clear that she views the issue as one of public safety since the road could be used for medical emergencies.

Murkowski said she hopes the current secretary, Ken Salazar, will resolve the issue before he leaves office in the next few weeks.

If that doesn’t happen, Murkowski said she would use “every tool in the tool box,” including putting a hold on Jewell’s nomination.

The only way for residents of King Cove, a fishing community in southwest Alaska, to reach the Cold Bay airport is by boat or airplane, often in high winds and blizzard conditions. There have been 11 fatalities in 30 years attributed to the lack of road access to the Cold Bay airport,  according to Alaskan officials. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a proposed land exchange that would allow construction of a 20-mile gravel road.

Murkowski sent a Feb. 11 letter to Jewell raising the emergency road issue: “I am prepared to consider all actions available to me as a U.S. senator to convince this administration that denying the people of King Cove reliable access to medical care would be a travesty.”

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