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Murkowski Saves Program ToHelp Alaska Communities Facing High Energy Costs

Southeast Alaskas Island News of Thorne Bay, Alaska

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U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, successfully turned back an effort by the White House & a leading senator to strike a $17.5 million high energy cost grant program important to Alaska rural communities that was included in a $124.5 billion Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2010 under debate in the Senate.

U.S. Senator John McCain, R-Ar-izona, offered an amendment to strike the high energy cost provision sponsored by Murkowski, saying that the grant program was duplicative.

But Murkowski, in a floor speech, said the program was authorized by Congress in the 2000 Rural Electrification Act because it "covered a gap in existing programs that des-erately needed to be filled."

"Now, this amendment might not only kill this program in the future but also might pull the rug out from under ongoing projects dependent on federal funding to be complet-d," Murkowski said.

Alaska has historically received about half of the total appropriation for this program. McCain's amend-ent failed on a 55 to 41 vote.

The high energy cost grant pro-ram provides grants to build, extend or upgrade energy generation, trans-ission or distribution facilities ser-ing communities in which the average residential home energy costs are 275% above the national average. President Obama's proposed

FY 2010 budget earlier this year eliminated the program but Murkowski, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, put the funding back in. The White House also argued that the program duplicated an existing loan guarantee program.

The Senate Agriculture, Rural Development & Food & Drug Administration Appropriations bill could come up for a final vote as early as Tuesday.

The legislation also includes $70 million for rural water & waste water disposal grants for Native Americans, including Native Alaskans, the Colonias and residents of Hawaiian Homelands. Alaska would get about $24.5 million of that total.

"This program has resulted in substantial improvements in the health, safety and well being of thousands of Alaskans," Murkowski said. "However, some 20% of homes in rural Alaska still lack basic sanitation, & a number of the early water systems are aging & cannot handle the cur-rent need. This is vitally needed funding that I was glad to be able to secure."

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Original Publication Date: August 17, 2009

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