Saturday 16 November 2019

Trump Administration 'may be investigated' after threatening the whole of Alaska

Oil tanker moored at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Marine Terminal in Valdez, Alaska (Stock photo)
Oil tanker moored at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Marine Terminal in Valdez, Alaska (Stock photo)

Caroline Mortimer

Federal officials should investigate alleged threats made by the White House against Alaska after one of its senators voted against repealing Obamacare, a leading Democrat has claimed.

Lisa Murkowski crossed the floor and voted against her own Republican Party's attempt to reform the Affordable Health Care Act, effectively killing the so-called "skinny" repeal, which would have scaled back some of its more controversial provisions.

It was subsequently alleged that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called her and fellow Republican senator for Alaska Dan Sullivan. He was said to have told them that if Ms Murkowski voted against the motion, it could mean proposed energy projects destined for the state would have to be scrapped.

Mr Sullivan, who voted in favour of the bill, told the Alaska Dispatch News: "I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop.

"I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans. We're facing some difficult times, but the message was pretty clear.”

Alaska is currently seeking federal permission to expand oil drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve but there are fears that this may now be blocked by White House.

Arizona congressman Raul Grijalva said an investigation should be launched into the allegations.

After the bill was eventually voted down by 51 votes to 49 in the Republican-dominated Senate, Donald Trump accused Ms Murkowski and the other Republican Senator's who voted against the reforms, Susan Collins and John McCain of letting down their party and their country on Twitter.

Mr Grijalva, the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources, said he would nonetheless ask the Government Accountability Office, the Interior Department’s inspector general or both to investigate the allegations against Mr Zinke. 

He said: "Threatening to punish your rivals as political blackmail is something we’d see from the Kremlin. Secretary Zinke’s willingness to deliver these threats speaks volumes about his ethical standards and demonstrates that Interior’s policy positions are up for political grabs, rather than based on science or the public interest.”

Mr Zinke's office did not respond to requests for comment.

His Interior Department oversees more than 20 percent of federal land, including national parks such as Yosemite, and deals with energy development on public land and offshore areas.

The department deals with policies crucial to Alaska's economy such as oil drilling and control of wildlife areas.

Ms Murkowski, as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, oversees appropriations and appointee confirmations for the Interior Department.

Separately, Interior Department watchdog group the Western Values Project filed a records request related to Mr Zinke's calls to Ms Murkowski and Mr Sullivan.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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