Committee approves $1.1 million for ANWR lobbying

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A House panel Tuesday approved spending $1.1 million more this year to push opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, despite hearing opposition from environmentalists.

The House Finance Committee bill would give $1 million to the nonprofit lobbying group Arctic Power and $100,000 to the city of Kaktovik.

The spending would bring to $3 million the state money provided to Arctic Power in the fiscal year that ends June 30, said Arctic Power Executive Director Kim Duke.

Duke said the group plans to spend the extra $1 million on a ''very intense'' three-month campaign.

The Kaktovik funding is intended to help that city prepare a video in support of opening ANWR and help defray its expenses in handling the influx of visitors who pass through on the way to the refuge.

Deb Moore of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, testifying by teleconference from Fairbanks, said the state shouldn't put money into Arctic Power when it is facing a potential billion-dollar budget shortfall this year.

''We should be fiscally responsible,'' she said.

Pat Walsh of Fairbanks, who said she operates a tourism business, argued that funding for tourism marketing should be the higher priority since the industry has been hurt by the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.

''Bookings are 40 percent to 75 percent less than what they should be this time of year,'' she said. ''Do you realize the huge hit the visitor industry is possibly in for in the summer of 2002?''

Opponents of the bill also questioned what Arctic Power has accomplished with years of funding and said the oil industry should be paying more of the bill.

Since 1993 the group has received a little more than $6 million in state funds, Duke said.

The last $2 million was spent on advertising, polling, travel, refuge tours, legal services and consulting, among other work, Duke said.

She pointed to signs the most recent campaign has made a difference: A bill with the ANWR provision passed the House, Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia has agreed to support the provision, the Chicago Tribune has endorsed it and the President George W. Bush is expected to call for it in his State of the Union speech this month.

Elaine Royal, a special assistant at Arctic Power, said 47 percent of the group's 2001 budget and 32 percent of its 2000 budget came from the state.

The measure, House Bill 334, is scheduled for a vote on the House floor Wednesday.

Gov. Tony Knowles announced Monday he was introducing a supplemental spending bill that would include $1 million Arctic Power, plus $10 million each for marketing the tourism and fishing industries.

But the Arctic Power bill the Finance Committee approved is a separate measure, and Finance Committee Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder said he doesn't know if there will be support for the larger tourism and fishing requests.

Mulder, R-Anchorage, said majority Republicans might be open to spending funds on tourism marketing if savings can be found elsewhere in this year's budget to offset the cost.

Of the $1 million for Arctic Power, $700,000 came from money that had been earmarked for gas pipeline work but was not needed, Mulder said

Mulder was more skeptical about Knowles' request for fish marketing money. He said it might make more sense to spend money buying back fishing permits, but added that is not something he's discussed with the majority caucus.

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