Bill would shift 3% of state’s ANWR revenue to Native corporations

Photo: Carrie Braes

At the request of Alaska Congressman Don Young, a bill pending in the U.S. House would reduce Alaska’s share of revenues from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and give that money to Alaska Native corporations.

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Congress decided last year, when it opened the refuge to oil development, to split the revenues 50-50 between the federal and state governments. But last week Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., proposed to reduce the state’s share to 47 percent and direct 3 percent to Alaska Native corporations.

“It’s fitting that I should offer the amendment under the larger than life picture of Don Young that’s staring down on us,” Cole told the House Appropriations Committee last week. “Because to be fair to everybody, this is an amendment that Don Young asked me to offer.”

Young isn’t on the Appropriations Committee but his portrait hangs in the room were the committee met.

Cole’s amendment, first reported by Indianz.com, specifies the 3 percent share would be distributed according to 7(i) revenue sharing. That’s the section of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that says the regional Native corporations must share 70 percent of the revenue from certain resource development on their lands with each other. The idea was to offset wealth disparities among the corporations.

But, to the frustration of several of them, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. got subsurface ownership to a small portion of ANWR in a 1983 land exchange known as the Chandler Lake agreement, and that land is not subject to the revenue sharing requirement.

Cole said his amendment fulfills the mission of 7(1).

“It is in keeping with the spirit of that legislation that there’s to be resource sharing amongst the Alaska Natives from ANWR,” Cole said.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., spoke against the amendment, saying the refuge is too valuable in its natural state to allow development. But Cole’s amendment passed the committee on a voice vote.

Young, in a written statement, said the 3-percent allocation will support the health and well-being of Alaska Natives. He said he and Alaska’s U.S. senators intended to get the allocation included in the bill last year, but were blocked by a Senate rule.

Young also said the state still stands to gain billions of dollars in revenues from developing ANWR. (Environmental groups opposed to drilling in the refuge dispute that it will raise large amounts of money.)

A spokeswoman for Lisa Murkowski said the senator supports the 3 percent allocation in the House bill to “resolve historical inequities.”

Gov. Walker spokesman Austin Baird said Walker backs the congressional delegation’s efforts.

“The governor is trusting the leadership of Sen. Murkowski, Sen. Sullivan and Congressman Young to look out for the best interest of Alaskans, since they are the closest to this,” Baird said.

The amendment is in the House Appropriations bill for the Interior Department, which still needs a vote by the full House.

Murkowski chairs a Senate subcommittee that is due to take up the Senate version of the bill Tuesday. A spokeswoman says a Senate agreement not to attach riders to the spending bills probably prevents Murkowski from including a similar provision in that bill. The amendment could still appear in the final version.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz