At the request of Alaska Congressman Don Young, a bill pending in the U.S. House would reduce Alaska’s share of revenues from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and give that money to Alaska Native corporations.
Congress decided last year, when it opened the refuge to oil development, to split the revenues 50-50 between the federal and state governments. But last week Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., proposed to reduce the state’s share to 47 percent and direct 3 percent to Alaska Native corporations.
“It’s fitting that I should offer the amendment under the larger than life picture of Don Young that’s staring down on us,” Cole told the House Appropriations Committee last week. “Because to be fair to everybody, this is an amendment that Don Young asked me to offer.”
Young isn’t on the Appropriations Committee but his portrait hangs in the room where the committee met.
Maintaining spirit of the law
Cole’s amendment, first reported by Indianz.com, specifies the 3 percent share would be distributed according to 7(i) revenue sharing. That’s the section of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that says the regional Native corporations must share 70 percent of the revenue from certain resource development on their lands with each other. The idea was to offset wealth disparities among the corporations.
But, to the frustration of several of them, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. got subsurface ownership to a small portion of ANWR in a 1983 land exchange known as the Chandler Lake agreement, and that land is not subject to the revenue sharing requirement.
Cole said his amendment fulfills the mission of 7(1).
“It is in keeping with the spirit of that legislation that there’s to be resource sharing amongst the Alaska Natives from ANWR,” Cole said.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., spoke against the amendment, saying the refuge is too valuable in its natural state to allow development. But Cole’s amendment passed the committee on a voice vote.
Supporting Indigenous Alaskans
Young, in a written statement, said the 3-percent allocation will support the health and well-being of Alaska Natives. He said he and Alaska’s U.S. senators intended to get the allocation included in the bill last year, but were blocked by a Senate rule.
Young also said the state still stands to gain billions of dollars in revenues from developing ANWR. (Environmental groups opposed to drilling in the refuge dispute that it will raise large amounts of money.)
A spokeswoman for Lisa Murkowski said the senator supports the 3 percent allocation in the House bill to “resolve historical inequities.”
Gov. Walker spokesman Austin Baird said Walker backs the congressional delegation’s efforts.
“The governor is trusting the leadership of Sen. Murkowski, Sen. Sullivan and Congressman Young to look out for the best interest of Alaskans, since they are the closest to this,” Baird said.
The amendment is in the House Appropriations bill for the Interior Department, which still needs a vote by the full House.
Murkowski chairs a Senate subcommittee that is due to take up the Senate version of the bill Tuesday. A spokeswoman says a Senate agreement not to attach riders to the spending bills probably prevents Murkowski from including a similar provision in that bill. The amendment could still appear in the final version.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Canada announces new climate change ambassador, Eye on the Arctic
Finland: Finnish chemistry professor develops “revolutionary” biofuel, Yle News
Norway: Beauty spot in Arctic Norway set to become Barents oil terminal, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Two more Russian rigs deployed for Arctic gas drilling, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Sweden reluctantly greenlights construction of Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Radio Sweden
United States: US Gov preparing for oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Public Media