Alaska editorial: Fund lobbying to open ANWR

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2003

This editorial appeared in Saturday's (Anchorage) Voice of the Times:

Slashing Arctic Power's budget, as proposed by the Alaska House, could be a victory for green activists fighting to block oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The House voted to cut the non-profit group's allocation from the requested $3 million for a nine-month lobbying campaign to $1.1 million to carry it just through June 30. Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, said the group can come back for more money later if it's needed.

That appears to be a cautious approach appropriate for the state's tight finances. But reducing and stringing out the grant ignores the reality that the pace of lobbying will depend on what happens in Washington and the international arena.

Alaska has billions of dollars at stake - in economic development, state revenues and private-sector jobs - in the fight to allow drilling on ANWR's coastal plain. The chances of success are now as good as they are ever likely to get. President Bush supports drilling. Republicans control both houses of Congress. And Ted Stevens and Don Young are in positions of enormous clout.

But winning the struggle is by no means assured. Much hard work remains and the bulk of that is in-the-trenches lobbying. Stevens, Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski are the front-line warriors in the battle and Gov. Frank Murkowski will continue his years-long fight on the issue. Arctic Power would provide critical support.

Kim Duke, executive director of Arctic Power, said the cut would force the group to shelve two important elements of its campaign - plans to take new members of Congress to ANWR and to send Alaskans to key states to get the word out.

But the green machine is working hard to block ANWR legislation. Its activists would like nothing better than for Alaska to tie the hands of its primary lobbying organization.

The greens are actively lobbying the Legislature to cut off funds to Arctic Power. One group, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, sent an e-mail message to its members urging them to testify against the Arctic Power grant at a Feb. 20 hearing, to send public opinion messages to legislators and to write letters to newspapers.

The group couches its messages in the wordage of fiscal restraint. But its intent is transparent; keeping ANWR closed to drilling.

Critics are also throwing up a smokescreen with claims that Arctic Power doesn't account for how state money is spent. That's untrue. The group is partially funded by contributions from individual Alaskans and private companies - those represented 30 percent of its budget last year. Use of all state grant money is fully accounted to the state, audited and available as public information.

Properly funding an ANWR lobbying effort could be critical to winning the fight and creating jobs for future generations of Alaskans.

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