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ANWR Bill introduced in House

The debate will surely fire up now that there is a bill on the hill to open the Arctic Refuge to drilling. Let the games begin!

Young refiles ANWR bill

By SAM BISHOP News-Miner Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON--Rep. Don Young has refiled his bill to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and, in a biennial bit of insider's irony, has once again secured for it the title "H.R. 39."
H.R. 39 was a bill backed by environmentalists in the late 1970s that would have made ANWR's coastal plain an official wilderness area. Congress instead passed a bill in 1980 that set aside the 1.5 million acres for study of both their wilderness value and petroleum potential.

Debate has continued ever since, with competing wilderness and oil leasing bills being filed in each session of Congress.

Young's most recent offering is identical to the one he offered for the 108th Congress, which expired last year, but the bill differs from versions passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in recent years.

Young's bill suggests no change to the existing federal law that would give 90 percent of the oil royalties to the state of Alaska. The federal government would retain 10 percent.

That split dates back to the Alaska Statehood Act, approved by Congress in 1958.

However, during recent sessions, the U.S. House has approved legislation that would split the revenues 50-50 between the state and federal governments.

Such a reduction in the state's share of what could be billions of dollars has been controversial within the state for decades. In 1983, for example, the Alaska Statehood Commission issued a report warning against such changes.

"Congress may attempt to change the formulas contained in the Statehood Act for revenue sharing," the commission said.

The Interior Department tried to do it unilaterally on the Kenai Peninsula in 1975, the commission noted, but was rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"But we are concerned with the court's language suggesting that these percentages can be changed in the future, at Congress' discretion," the commission said. "The Alaska Statehood Act required the consent of Alaskan voters to become effective. Similarly, Alaskan voters should have the opportunity to pass upon suggested changes to the Statehood Act."

However, in 1996, the U.S. Court of Claims dismissed that argument. Judge Eric Bruggink, ruling on a lawsuit filed in 1993 by former Gov. Walter Hickel, said Congress could change the 90-10 split unilaterally.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the state's appeal the next year, saying, "Nothing more needs to be said." The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case in 1998.

The House-approved ANWR bills in recent years also have limited development footprint on the coastal plain to 2,000 acres. Young's bill doesn't mention such a limit.

Young's bill would also divert up to $5 million a year to a fund to help the North Slope Borough, the village of Kaktovik and any other communities in Alaska deal with the environmental and social effects of oil development.

Other provisions of Young's bill include:

* The secretary of the Interior, in writing an environmental impact statement, shall only analyze a preferred leasing plan and one alternative leasing plan. No other plans can be considered, and the analysis must be done within 18 months of the bill becoming law.

* Areas of up to 45,000 acres with special biological value can be designated.

* At least 200,000 acres must be offered for lease to oil companies in the first sale, which must come within 22 months of the law's enactment.

* The government's royalty share of any oil pumped cannot be less than 12.5 percent.

* Hiring of Alaska Natives and Native corporations must meet the quota set by Congress for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

* No oil from the refuge may be exported.

* Oil companies and contractors must negotiate with organized labor for a project agreement, though no such agreement is mandated.

* Exploration must occur between Nov. 1 and May 1 each year on ice roads or snow adequate to protect the ground, except in special circumstances.

Washington, D.C., reporter Sam Bishop can be reached at (202) 662-8721 or sbishop@newsminer.com .

Permalink :: Posted by Clay Butcher on January 17, 2005 :: ::
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