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Alaska Legislature

Alaska Legislature approves resolution in favor of ANWR drilling

The Alaska State Capitol is seen at sunset Wednesday, March 6, 2019 in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — In its first piece of non-procedural legislation this year, the Alaska Legislature has approved a resolution calling upon the federal government to open oil and gas leasing in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Alaska House of Representatives voted 36-3 in favor of the resolution Monday after amending a version approved in the Senate last week. After the House vote, the Senate voted 18-1 to confirm the House’s version.

The new version includes a clause stating that Alaskans support ANWR drilling under the presumption that local workers will be employed “to the maximum extent possible.”

The resolution is a non-binding statement of intent, not a law.

A similar resolution has been approved by every two-year session of the Alaska Legislature since 1997, but past resolutions have been aspirational. The 31st Legislature’s resolution comes as the Interior Department is soliciting public comments on a planned lease sale. Wednesday is the deadline for submitting resolutions, and lawmakers — including sponsor Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage — wanted to beat that deadline.

In the House, the three votes against the resolution came from Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, and Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage. All three cited climate change impacts as their reason for opposition. Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, was excused absent from the vote.

In the Senate, the lone vote in opposition came from Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage. Last week, Gray-Jackson said that she was unwilling to vote for the resolution without language calling for protection of northern caribou herds. Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, was excused absent.

According to federal law, Alaska will receive half the revenue from any ANWR lease sale.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, suggested amending the resolution to say that Alaska should receive 90 percent of the revenue. That language would have mirrored the text of the Alaska Statehood Act, he said. Eastman’s amendment was defeated 12-27.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, was absent from the House vote. It was Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River.

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