Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has been named the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, which holds the purse strings to the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- agencies with which she has had policy disputes during the last couple of years.

Murkowski has had significant input on energy policy as the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and now she will have influence over the budgets of the two federal departments.

"If she feels the agencies aren't being responsive [to her concerns], there's a lot of potential authority there" that she could wield as the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said Robert Dillon, Murkowski's spokesman on the Senate energy panel. Energy policy is often made at the appropriations level.

One of Murkowski's chief concerns is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's recent decision directing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to administratively designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as "wild lands" and to manage them to protect their wilderness values (see Daily GPI, Dec. 27, 2010).

Murkowski believes that Interior "is trying to do an end-run around Congress" with this, Dillon said. "Only Congress can designate wilderness [lands]. We see this as Interior trying to circumvent authority in Congress."

The wild lands policy "is a straightforward, common-sense approach that restores balance to the management of public lands. The policy affirms the BLM's responsibility to take into account all of the resources for which it is responsible -- including wilderness characteristics -- when it conducts its transparent, public land use planning process," countered Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff.

The senator also wants to make sure that responsible drilling resumes as soon as possible in the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

Last year Murkowski launched an effort to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act, but she was unsuccessful. Now several other senators -- Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and James Inhofe (R-OK) -- have introduced legislation that has the same objective (see Daily GPI, Feb. 4).

"She's quite pleased that there's a lot of attention [to the issue]. She's watching what Inhofe and Barrasso are doing before she gets on board" or offers her own legislation, Dillon said.

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