"Our system of checks and balances means that sometimes the views of a United States senator have to prevail," Alexander said.
Jewell absorbed a broadside from Murkowski on Wednesday when she appeared before the Appropriations subcommittee.
The Alaska senator wore a scarf emblazoned with images of the Incredible Hulk — a homage to the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who marched into Senate floor battles wearing Hulk ties — and launched into a lengthy attack on Jewell's decision.
"I will not stand by and watch as more Alaskan lives are put at risk, put at risk potentially to die. I will not let this issue die," Murkowski said.
Jewell, for her part, is in no mood to escalate the battle.
"Senator Murkowski is very passionate about the citizens of the state of Alaska and I appreciate her passion along with that of [Alaska Democratic] Senator Begich, and that shows through in her words," Jewell told reporters afterward.
But she's also standing behind the Izembek decision, which rejected a land swap that would have brought more acreage into the refuge but allowed the road to proceed. Interior's formal "record of decision" in December finds that the road and the activities it would bring would lead to "significant degradation of irreplaceable ecological resources."
Beds of eelgrass in the refuge feed over 98 percent of the world's Pacific black brant before the birds make the nonstop flight to Mexico for the winter, the document notes, adding the birds are "particularly sensitive" to disturbance.
More broadly, the refuge provides habitat for tundra swans, emperor geese, Steller's eiders, bears, caribou, and other animals.
"The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is a narrow isthmus between two lagoons and it is a critical nesting ground for a number of species, some threatened or endangered and others not. It is also a very narrow migratory route," Jewell said Wednesday.
"It is a very, very important and unique habitat and the determination by the Fish and Wildlife Service is that a road would be very disruptive through that area," she told reporters.
The December decision document notes that $37.5 million was provided in a late 1990s spending bill that improved transportation access and medical services in the area.
Going forward, Interior says it's committed to working with the community in the region and the state to find alternatives, such as improved marine options and more use of Coast Guard helicopters in emergencies.
But Murkowski batted that aside Wednesday, calling all other alternatives too costly or risky or both, and said her talks with top Coast Guard officials show that option is a nonstarter, requiring two $26 million helicopters and 20 additional personnel.
"I will do everything, everything in my power for as long as I am here to enable the people of King Cove to receive proper emergency access that the rest of us take for granted," Murkowski said at the hearing.
"I will not," she said, "get over this issue."
That means Interior is in for a rough ride if Republicans pick up the six seats needed to win the Senate majority.
"It means that Jewell had better find a way to kiss and make up," said Stephen Brown, a lobbyist for Tesoro. "And I don't think flowers or candy will suffice."