Arctic Power, Alaska's top lobbyist for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, is asking the Alaska Legislature to put up more than $1 million toward its efforts.
Alaska has given the group about $9 million since 1992 when Arctic Power was formed, but lawmakers have no oversight on how the money is spent and some are beginning to ask whether it's worth it.
"I would think it wouldn't take that long for someone to sit down and make a list saying this is what we did," said Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, chairman of the Senate Resources Committee.
Wagoner said he expects direction from Alaska's congressional delegation on how much, if any, to give the group this year.
"If we were to talk about $1.1 million now, I'm not sure how much of that we'll need," he said.
He said he believes Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, will address the issue next month in his annual visit to the Legislature. Earlier this month, Stevens told the Anchorage Daily News, "You can spend all the money you want in this town, and I don't think it changes a Senate vote."
The U.S. Senate is polarized on the ANWR issue and Arctic Power's efforts might be better used on educating the public, according to Stevens spokeswoman Courtney Schikora Boothe.
"He believes (Arctic Power) serves a purpose, but lobbyists will not solve the ANWR issue in the Senate," she said.
The state Senate Resources Committee heard testimony on the funding request Wednesday. Following the meeting, Arctic Power Executive Director Kevin Hand said the lobbying group is audited every year on its expenses. Hand, however, acknowledged that the results of the audit are not made public.
The financial report is not released because those opposing ANWR drilling would try to use the document against the group's lobbying effort, Hand said. He also said not all the money is contributed by public entities. Al Adams, co-chairman of the board for Arctic Power, said about 400 businesses contribute to Arctic Power.
ConocoPhillips, one of the state's largest oil companies, has dropped its financial support for Arctic Power, as has oil producer BP.
"We have not been involved in the ANWR debate in many years and have focused our investment attention in Alaska toward the gas pipeline and development of other North Slope satellite fields. Since ANWR is currently closed to development, we feel that any resolution or pledge on our part would be moot," according to a recent statement by ConocoPhillips.
Hand said the $1.1 million would represent about a third of Arctic Power's total budget.
"The state of Alaska has to have a voice in this debate," he said. He noted that Arctic Power is outfunded many times over by environmental groups.
Although Arctic Power has been unsuccessful in its 12-year quest to open the refuge to drilling, Hand said the group has made some strides in educating the public.
"No one knew what ANWR was in 1992," he said. "If you talked about the Porcupine caribou herd in 1992, people thought you were talking about porcupines."
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, who serves on the Senate Resources Committee, has opposed funding Arctic Power and said the state should be able to account for how its money is used if it is going to spend millions.
"You need to have a vision backed by tactics, so you can measure your effectiveness along the way," he said.
The committee did not take action on the bill Wednesday.