KTUU (NBC): Alaska delegation united in push for offshore oil revenue sharing

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Sen. Mark Begich says the state is close to getting a share of tax revenues from offshore oil drilling -- which usually bypass Alaska and go straight to the federal government.

Shell Oil is getting very close to drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Those are federal waters, and like many states Alaska wants a portion of the wealth.

All three members of Alaska's congressional delegation are in town this week, and they held a rare joint appearance at an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday.

Offshore drilling was one of the afternoon's big topics. It's generating a lot of discussion in Washington, D.C. in light of the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"But for those that think that OCS is just going go away, it's not dealing in the real world," Begich said. "It's part of the equation of a long-term energy policy for this country."

Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut recently introduced a wide-ranging energy and jobs bill. Last week, Begich successfully worked a line into that bill which could someday provide billions of dollars to the state through revenue-sharing.

"We pushed very hard on this, we argued our point," Begich said. "We explained the impacts on coastal communities, what we have to do to prepare for oil and gas development -- it doesn't matter if it's in state or federal waters."

Basically, states could rake in 37 percent of the money coming from development in nearby federal waters. As the law stands right now, Alaska would not receive a dime -- just the benefit of in-state jobs and a potential boost to the trans-Alaska pipeline.

"Now is that enough of a must-have to allow me to sign onto a bill? Absolutely not," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

"So, keeping my vote out right now keeps us in the room to negotiate, and make sure Alaska's well-represented," Begich said.

That's right: neither Begich nor Murkowski support the overall bill which contains the revenue proposal. They say it's because there are other sections that could hurt Alaska interests.

Specifically, Murkowski and Begich don't like a section of the bill that would cap the total amount of greenhouse gases that large polluters such as power plants and refineries could emit, and require them to buy carbon allowances to offset their emissions.

"This is not something that is going to be resolved quickly, just because there's a few key pieces in it that some legislators find enticing," Murkowski said.

"I would, of course, love to see something this year -- the odds are tight for this year," Begich said.

If Alaska's delegation can work things out, the state just might share in the offshore wealth.

# # #

Source: By Ted Land. Originally published May 17, 2010