Native corporations would get share of ANWR oil revenues under federal budget amendment

WASHINGTON — Alaska's federal lawmakers are on their way to handing Native corporations a cut of state revenues from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

An amendment to a House appropriations bill for fiscal year 2019 would adjust the 50-50 state-federal revenue sharing deal, letting 3 percent of the state's share be split among all Alaska Native corporations.

In December's major federal tax legislation, an amendment bolstered by Alaska's congressional delegation — and ferried through by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Energy Committee — opened the coastal plain of ANWR to oil exploration. But because of Senate parliamentary rules, Alaska's lawmakers weren't able to include a cut for the Native corporations, according to Murkowski and Rep. Don Young.

But now the House Committee on Appropriations has approved an Interior and Environment appropriations bill that includes an amendment to share some of the state's potential ANWR revenues. Young isn't on the Appropriations Committee, but the amendment was offered by Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole on his behalf and adopted by a voice vote.

"I have worked with my senators to ensure that Alaska Natives benefit from this funding, which reflects the principles of revenue sharing established in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act," Young said in a statement to the Anchorage Daily News. "Passing this provision fulfills our commitment to Alaska Natives and reflects the original intent of the language in the tax bill, which was structured, including a significant increase in royalty revenues, to accommodate this addition."

The plan was always for the Native organizations to get a cut, and state government officials "understood this dynamic and … anticipated a 47% of the non-federal share," Young said.

But the amendment could cause strife among Alaska Native organizations. Last year, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. argued that in 1983 it exchanged surface lands at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve for lands beneath ANWR's coastal plain, exempting it from the legal requirement to share its oil revenues with all regional and village Native corporations.

Murkowski's Energy Committee spokeswoman Nicole Daigle said that the senator supports the amendment though she won't be able to offer a similar one herself in the Senate.

"She would like to include it in the Senate version, but due to the broader agreement to refrain from new riders for FY 2019, she does not expect to be able to include it and will instead support the provision in conference," Daigle said.

On Tuesday, the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee that Murkowski chairs passed an appropriations bill with full support of the committee Democrats. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., praised Murkowski at the meeting for putting forward a bill free of "poison pill" riders — amendments that starkly divide Republicans and Democrats and prevent a bill from progressing.

If the Senate Interior appropriations bill makes it to the Senate floor for a vote, it would be the first time since the FY 2010 appropriations bill, Murkowski noted at the hearing Tuesday.

For the ANWR revenue sharing provision to make it to conference, the House and Senate must both pass all 12 appropriations bills. Congress has managed that process only a handful of times in recent decades. Instead, they usually end up with an omnibus bill that rolls all the bills together — and doesn't allow for much negotiation over amendments — or a continuing resolution, which just extends current funding levels into the future.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed a clear desire for the Senate to manage the "regular order" of funding the government this year. He declared most of August recess canceled for the purpose of managing funding bills before the end of the fiscal year in September.