ANWR lobbying bill on fast track before Legislature

Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill to give a nonprofit group $1 million more to continue lobbying for the opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is positioned to zoom through the Legislature.

The House Finance Committee will hear the bill to give Arctic Power more funds first thing Tuesday. House Rules Chairman Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said it could be before the full House the next day.

The Senate Finance Committee also plans hearings on the bill next week.

''Timing was of the essence,'' said House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage.

Mulder said Arctic Power needs the money to make a major lobbying push in anticipation of a February vote on an energy bill in the U.S. Senate.

Alaska's congressional delegation is pushing for the energy bill to allow oil development in the refuge. Democratic senators in Washington D.C., have threatened a filibuster if that happens. A measure with the ANWR provision passed the U.S. House.

Last year Arctic Power was given $2 million by the Legislature for the fiscal year that began July 1. But not before some state legislators questioned what results the nonprofit had to show for the money.

The proposed additional spending would also be for the current fiscal year.

Lawmakers almost certainly will approve the additional spending, despite the fact the state will have to pull close to a billion dollars from its Constitutional Budget Reserve -- a state savings account -- this year to balance the budget.

''Even though we're in tight financial times, a modest investment at this point in time could, and should, pay large dividends in the future,'' Mulder said.

A few Democrats, such as Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, expressed reservations about the spending.

''It's an awful lot of money, and we've got an awful lot of representation already working on,'' the issue, Kerttula said. She didn't know how she would vote.

But many Democrats will likely join with the Republican majority in voting for the spending.

''I think there's a recognition that this is probably a key time,'' said Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage. ''My understanding is they have been spending the money on what looks like a fairly successful campaign to get it open so far.''

The bill calls for $800,000 of the spending to come from a pot of money intended to pay for studies and preliminary state work on a potential gas pipeline from the North Slope. The money is not needed this year for the gasline work, Mulder said. The remaining $200,000 would come from the state's general fund.

The measure is House Bill 334.

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