Friday, February 15, 2013

Federal opposition to Izembek road rallies Alaskans against Interior nominee Sally Jewell

The U.S. House has little influence over the confirmation of Cabinet nominees, but that's not stopping Alaska Congressman Don Young from brewing trouble for President Obama's pick to lead the Department of the Interior.  On Thursday, Rep. Young took to the House floor to urge his colleagues in the Senate -- which must confirm Cabinet secretaries -- to put the nomination of former REI chief Sally Jewell on hold until outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approves a federal land exchange to construct a road between King Cove and Cold Bay in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The proposed road connecting King Cove and Cold Bay been a source of contention for years between residents, who say it would save lives, and environmentalists, who say it would damage the ecosystem of the refuge. To allay fears of environmental degradation, a land exchange was proposed that would allow for a 9-mile road through the refuge, comprising about 1,800 acres of federal land, in exchange for the addition of more than 56,000 acres to the refuge. The exchange was approved by Congress as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Package. On Feb. 5, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decided not to take action on the proposed land exchange, preventing the deal from taking place. However, the final decision lies with the soon-departing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Interior Department, which manages federal lands, including most of Alaska, more than 60 percent of which is still owned by the federal government. Last month, Salazar announced his plans to resign. Now, Young is urging him to act before he steps down...more

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