ANWR-lobbying bill on fast track in Legislature

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2002

A bill to give a nonprofit group $1 million more to continue lobbying to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is positioned to zoom through the Legislature.

The House Finance Committee will hear the bill to give Arctic Power more funds first thing Tuesday. House Rules Chairman Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican, said it could be before the full House the next day.

The Senate Finance Committee also plans hearings on House Bill 334 soon.

"Timing was of the essence," said House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican.

Mulder said Arctic Power needs the money to make a major lobbying push in anticipation of a February vote on an energy bill in the U.S. Senate.

Alaska's congressional delegation is pushing for the energy bill to allow oil development in the refuge. Democratic senators in Washington D.C., have threatened a filibuster if that happens. A measure with the ANWR provision passed the U.S. House.

Last year Arctic Power was given $2 million by the Legislature for the fiscal year that began July 1. But not before some state legislators questioned what results the group had to show for the money.

The proposed additional spending would also be for the current fiscal year.

Lawmakers almost certainly will approve the additional spending, despite the fact the state will have to pull close to a billion dollars from its Constitutional Budget Reserve a state savings account this year to balance the budget.

"Even though we're in tight financial times, a modest investment at this point in time could, and should, pay large dividends in the future," Mulder said.

A few Democrats, such as Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, expressed reservations about the spending.

"It's an awful lot of money, and we've got an awful lot of representation already working on," the issue, Kerttula said. She didn't know how she would vote.

But many Democrats will likely join with the Republican majority in voting for the spending.

"I think there's a recognition that this is probably a key time," said Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat. "My understanding is they have been spending the money on what looks like a fairly successful campaign to get it open so far."

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