The state's ongoing campaign to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling would get a $3.1 million boost under a bill introduced Friday.
The powerful House Finance Committee is sponsoring the bill, which means it is likely to pass easily. Similar measures have passed the Legislature quickly in past years.
Finance Committee Co-Chairman John Harris, a Valdez Republican, said this is a key time to lobby Congress to allow oil drilling in the coastal plain of the refuge. Many state leaders hope the refuge holds large quantities of oil that would fuel the state budget and the state economy.
Harris said chances are good for passage of ANWR legislation because the U.S. House, Senate and presidency are in Republican hands. But he said not all Republicans are on board, so the state needs to keep up its lobbying efforts.
"We need to put together a very strong effort on behalf of the state," Harris said. "Right now seems to be the very, very best opportunity we have."
The bulk of the money would go to the nonprofit lobbying group Arctic Power. The bill also calls for the Native village of Kaktovik to receive $100,000 for its support of Arctic Power's education efforts.
Harris said he intends to add language to the bill calling for Arctic Power to work with Alaska's congressional delegation in deciding how to spend the money.
He said some activities by Arctic Power in the past had not helped the delegation's efforts, but he would not provide more details on that.
Alaska's senators and representative are in the best position to know how to most effectively influence other senators and representatives, Harris said.
"They know what buttons you can push and what buttons you can't push," Harris said.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, has voted against similar spending in the past and she's not enthusiastic about this year's bill.
She said it's hard to support the spending when the state is having trouble adequately funding education and health care.
"My main concern is it's an awful lot of money in really lean years, in particular when some producers are no longer contributing to the effort, notably British Petroleum," Kerttula said.
BP announced in November it was withdrawing from Arctic Power. The London-based company has said in recent months that it wants to avoid trying to influence public policy.
While BP has said it won't be contributing to Arctic Power, other oil companies and oil field support industries continue to be supportive, Harris said.
"You'd always wish there was more, but I think the private sector is stepping up to the plate," Harris said.
The Legislature has provided Arctic Power with almost $7.5 million since the 1993 fiscal year, according to the Department of Community and Economic Development. That includes $1.1 million approved in February 2002.
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