Senate panel adds more money for ANWR lobbying, Northern Forum

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Senate Finance Committee put together a new version of the state's supplemental budget Monday, adding another $350,000 for promotion of oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and $90,000 for a financially troubled international organization of northern governments.

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 the so-called ''fast-track'' supplemental spending bill for the current fiscal year.

The Senate Finance Committee added $250,000 for educational media efforts in targeted congressional districts. Another $100,000 would go to 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. Dave Donley, the committee's co-chairman, said he added the $250,000 at the request of U.S. Rep. Don Young, who wants help swaying dozens the members of the House.

''That's a huge challenge,'' said Donley, R-Anchorage. ''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.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, 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.''

The money 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 committee's version of the budget also adds $90,000 for the Northern Forum, an Anchorage-based international organization that includes Alaska and 28 other states, provinces and other regional governments in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Japan, China and Mongolia.

''A good chunk of it will be used to undertake a fund-raising campaign,'' said John Doyle, the organization's executive director. The forum works on issues northern regions have in common, such as balancing natural resource extraction with environmental protection.

The organization has experienced cash flow problems in recent months because some of its members didn't pay their dues on time, said Priscilla Wohl, Doyle's deputy. Wohl said dues are trickling in to fix those problems.

Alaska's dues to the forum are $10,000 a year, and the state added an additional $60,000 for its operations during the current fiscal year, Doyle said.

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 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 amendment failed 2-7 on party lines.

The bill was held for further debate on Wednesday.

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