On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed the Denali National Park Improvement Act. The bill, once signed by President Obama, will do three things. It allows the permitting and construction of a micro-hydroelectric generator, permits a natural gas pipeline to be buried along the utility corridor of the Parks Highway inside the Park, and it changes the name of the Talkeetna Ranger station. The bill had strong bipartisan support, and could be signed into law within the next week.
Congressman Don Young is strongly in favor of the legislation, and describes what he sees as the benefits.
“I think it’ll help the Park. It provides us with a cheaper form of energy that’s less polluting. I think that’s good. It uses an existing right-of-way, which is good. So, overall, I think it’s an improvement act.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski sponsored the bill in the Senate, and says that the micro-hydro project is a step toward cheaper, more sustainable energy within the National Park by reducing the use of diesel fuel.
“So, you have a situation, there, where you’re able to get off diesel power generation and get onto hydro, a clean, renewable energy source. It absolutely makes sense to develop this small hydro project that will substantially reduce the reliance on the existing diesel fuel.”
Congressman Young and Senator Murkowski say that the renaming of the Talkeetna Ranger Station in honor of Walter Harper is an important way to recognize Alaska’s history by honoring the first man to summit Denali. Maureen McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the Talkeetna Ranger Station, says that while the staff there did not request the change, they are happy to honor Walter Harper with the new station name.
In addition to the legislation that passed, Senator Murkowski sponsored a bill in the Senate to officially rename Mt. McKinley. If passed, the bill would make it so that Denali is the official name of the 20,237 foot high peak. Senator Murkowski says that, while bill is not complex, it does get resistance from Senators and Representatives from Ohio, the birth-state of President McKinley.
“…and I have suggested to my friends and colleagues from Ohio [that] they can call the mountain whatever it is that they want to, but we, as Alaskans, want to ensure that it has its Native place-name–that being Denali–and we would like that recognized.”
Congressman Young has served in the House of Representatives for forty years, and has been part of the debate to rename the mountain in the past. He says that there is less likelihood of strong opposition to the name change now than in years past.
“It’ll always be Mt. McKinley to most people in the lower 48. We know a lot of Alaskans just call it…Denali Peak….Ralph Regula, bless his heart, used to be a Congressman, and he was on Appropriations. Any time we tried to do it, he was pretty much able to stop that. I don’t think that’s going to occur again.”
The proposal to officially rename Mt. McKinley to Denali has passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, and Senator Murkowski says she hopes to have it presented to the full Senate as part of a legislative package. With Syria, the debt ceiling, and funding the government taking up a great deal of time, it may be awhile before Senator Murkowski, along with many other Alaskans, gets her wish,