This story has been updated to reflect Rep. Don Young’s role.
The 49th state’s share of anticipated revenues from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is on the verge of being slashed by what could be close to $1 billion, and the state’s top elected officials seem strangely quiet.
After attaching an amendment to open ANWR to last year’s GOP-led tax cut that included a 50-50 state split of future ANWR royalty revenues, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was described as “ebullient.”
On May 31, Murkowski was at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference to take what KTVA.com described as an “Anchorage victory lap” for her ANWR success.
One week later, the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations approved a fiscal year 2019 Interior and Environment Bill that cut Alaska’s share of ANWR royalty revenue to 47 percent. The other 3 percent is to be given to Alaska Native corporations.
The provision to amend the legislation to give Native corporations the money came in the form of an amendment to the bill by Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a self-proclaimed good friend of Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.
“The amendment adds bill language ensuring that trust and treaty obligations are met related to Alaska Native oil and gas revenue sharing,” according to a committee media statement. “The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.”
“It would be appropriate, just and meritorious action of Congress to keep these revenues within the spirit of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,” Cole told Indianz.com, a website for Native American news. According to Cole, the idea for the new, three-way split came from Young.
How deeply involved the rest of the Alaska Congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Walker in the deal is unclear, but multiple sources have told craigmedred.news they were all aware of what was going on. Austin Baird, press secretary to Walker, promised to get a statement from the governor and call back Friday. The call never came.
Karina Peterson, the press secretary for Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, R-Alaska, did not return a phone call. Matthew Schuckerow, the deputy communications director for Sen. Dan Sullivan since November (and before that Young’s communication director and before that Murkowski’s press secretary) did not respond to an e-mail request for information.
Alaska’s political leaders have long enjoyed backing from the regional Native corporations now among the biggest businesses in the north. The corporations comprise nine of the top-10 biggest businesses in Alaska and 16 of the top-20 last year, according to Alaska Business magazine.
The corporations created by the Alaska Native Claims Act of 1971 (ANCSA) are widely credited with winning re-election for Murkowski in 2010 after she lost the Republican primary to Joe Miller from Fairbanks. The corporations poured $1.6 million into a fund to aid her in an unprecedented write-in run for a U.S. Senate seat.
The deal now being cut in the nation’s capital has its roots in what is called the “Chandalar Lake Agreement of 1983.” The agreement dealt with 92,000 acres of land selected by the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) under the terms of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“Because the Refuge was created before ANCSA, the Arctic Slope Regional
Corporation (ASRC) was prohibited from taking title to the subsurface estate of those lands,” the CRS notes, but the Chandalar agreement later “gave ASRC title to the subsurface estate beneath those KIC surface lands, even though the KIC lands all fall in a refuge area created before
“The 1983 Agreement prohibited development of the ASRC lands in ANWR unless Congress opened ANWR, as Congress did in December 2017 in P.L. 115-97. The opening of ANWR for energy development could affect not only subsurface but also surface Native lands, to the extent that they may be available for storage, staging, and other development activities.”
ANWR exploration and development could provide a big economic boom for Kaktovik, population 240, and the Arctic Slope corporation, but it was destined to leave other Alaska Native corporations out in the cold because of another stipulation in the Chandalar agreement.
It exempted the Kakotvik subsurface lands from the revenue-sharing provisions in ANCSA Section 7(i). Section 7(i) provides “for the distribution by the regional corporations of 70 percent of their mineral revenues among all 12 land-owning regional corporations,” James D. Linxwiler notes in a history of the act.
The Chandalar agreement didn’t matter when ANWR was locked up under the Obama administration. But stirrings of discord among the Native corporations began to emerge last year when it looked like ANWR might finally be opened to oil exploration.
“Some Alaska Native corporations are arguing they deserve to share the wealth,” Alex DeMarban reported at the Anchorage Daily News in March. He said the newspaper had received copies of ASRC letters to other corporations demanding they stop “asking Congress to require ASRC to share.”
“We also indicated our unhappiness at attempts by a few to re-open a long-resolved issue and attempt to undermine a settlement agreement from years ago,” ASRC spokesman Ty Hardt told DeMarban.
The disagreement among the corporations would now appear to have been solved by their taking a share of what was to be the state’s ANWR revenue.