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POLITICS: PennAve

A 10-mile feud between Lisa Murkowski and Interior's Sally Jewell

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Interior,Alaska,PennAve,Energy and Environment,Zack Colman,Sally Jewell,Lisa Murkowski,Magazine,Conservation

A long-sought road has put distance between Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Jewell's denial of a proposed land swap that would have allowed construction of a 10-mile road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge for emergency medical evacuations for the isolated community of King Cove incensed the Alaska Republican. Murkowski says Jewell chose to save the lives of birds -- the refuge is home to several species of waterfowl and shorebirds -- over the lives of people, noting that 19 have died since 1980 either in plane crashes or because they couldn't get medical treatment in time.

It's a row that Murkowski swears won't affect how she deals with Jewell. But unless the ice melts, the relationship will be closely watched if Republicans capture the Senate in November. That's because Jewell would have to plead her agency's cases to Murkowski, who would lead the Energy and Natural Resources Committee as well as the Appropriations Committee's interior and environment panel.

"I don't back down when it's the right thing for Alaskans. But I'm also not a vindictive person," Murkowski told the Washington Examiner. "I have told the secretary I will use all the tools in my toolbox, but I will do so fairly and I again will not give up on an issue that is so close to the people I represent."

The proposed King Cove road has eluded Alaska lawmakers for decades. Murkowski has ginned up attention about the issue, holding a handful of Capitol press conferences involving King Cove residents and excoriating Jewell on the subject during a Senate hearing.

The King Cove issue touches on a sensitive topic for Alaskans, Murkowski said. It puts a spotlight on how much land the federal government controls in Alaska -- 62 percent, according to a February 2012 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

"I have acknowledged to her and she has recognized that the secretary of the Interior is technically the landlord for us here in Alaska, so much of our land is being held by the federal government," Murkowski said.

Jewell "is optimistic that they can continue to work together on the vast range of issues that are important to Alaskans -- ranging from responsible oil and gas development, to subsistence hunting and fishing, and wildfire response -- even when they don't see eye to eye on every issue," an Interior Department spokesman said.

But Jewell has a job to do, too, Murkowski said.

"Even if you don't agree with them, you can still treat them with respect that is accorded them as is due their title or with respect to them as another person," she said.

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