Legislature 2001: Senate panel adds cash to push opening ANWR

Young asked for extra money to help sway House members

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2001

State Senate budget-writers want to spend another $350,000 for promotion of oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Arctic Power, a private group dedicated to opening the refuge to oil drilling, was slated to receive $1.5 million in the House version of what's called the "fast-track" supplemental spending bill for the current fiscal year.

The Senate Finance Committee added $250,000 Monday for ANWR educational media efforts.

Sen. Dave Donley, the committee's co-chairman, said he added the money at the request of U.S. Rep. Don Young, who wants help swaying dozens of members of the U.S. House.

"That's a huge challenge," said Donley, an Anchorage Republican. "He's got hundreds of colleagues to educate on this subject."

Advocates of drilling in ANWR view this year as a crucial window of opportunity because of the election of President Bush, Republican control of Congress and tight energy supplies in the Lower 48. Environmentalists oppose opening the refuge, fearing oil development would damage its pristine condition and hurt wildlife. Opening the refuge requires an act of Congress.

Funds for Arctic Power, which offers little accounting for how it's spent millions from the state in recent years, drew criticism in the House and even the Senate Finance Committee, but Monday's additions passed with no objection.

The Senate budget panel also added $100,000 Monday for the city of Kaktovik, which lies within the refuge, to help the community deal with an expected influx of high-profile public officials and reporters.

Sen. Donny Olson, a Nome Democrat, said the increased attention ANWR is generating threatens to overwhelm the skeleton government of Kaktovik, a community of less than 200 people.

"They need somebody there just to answer the incoming phone calls," Olson said. "You need people to show these people around."

A financially troubled international organization of northern governments was also earmarked for $90,000 in the supplemental budget measure. The Northern Forum works on issues northern regions have in common, such as balancing natural resource extraction with environmental protection.

The Anchorage-based organization has had cash-flow problems in recent months because some of its members didn't pay their dues on time, said Priscilla Wohl of the Northern Forum. She said dues are trickling in. The extra money will be used for a fund-raising campaign.

In other action, the committee rejected an amendment to spend $400,000 on environmental projects to satisfy the settlement of a 1992 lawsuit accusing the state of violating the federal Clean Water Act during reconstruction of parts of the Copper River Highway.

The committee's current version of the supplemental budget would spend $5.7 million from the state's general fund, about $750,000 more than the House version.

The bill was held for further debate Wednesday.

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