Gary Stock: UnBlinking

Glance askance: Lobbyists of the non-profit group Arctic Power have spent millions of dollars to encourage oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Who is the single biggest donor? The Alaskan State Legislature donates most of the money -- but not through the usual budget process. The oil industry makes donations too, but would prefer their involvement be kept quiet. Who's in charge?

Getting Drilled in a Pristine Area, Part Three
Parts One and Two of "Getting Drilled in a Pristine Area" described actions by USGS consultant Ian Thomas, reactions by USGS management, and subsequent interactions on the web. New issues continue to arise, to be captured in a future UnBlinking. While that story remains in flux, UnBlinking follows a parallel track, to clarify why some employees fare better than others.

First, consider a person who is paid by the government - not an employee, but a hired consultant - who has strong political views. If such a person were using government resources to lobby for a specific political outcome, what response should they expect?

Given Ian Thomas' experience, such a person might be handed a pink slip. Canned! If their politics were not White House compliant, such a person would be out of work. Ian Thomas learned that the hard way.

However, if that person's politics were aligned with those of the Bush administration, they'd be handed a plum political appointment! And Cam Toohey's politics do match. In fact, Cam has been given millions of tax dollars over the past five years to advocate for just what the Resident wants: oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Now you'll ask, "Cam Toohey? Cam Whooey?" Gentlemen, start your search engines!
UnBlinking scans the wealth of information on the internet, gathering background on people and events. Using public search engines, UnBlinking collates what may be known (and what may have been forgotten). Please use QuickTopic to share your comments. [Usability note: All links here open into the same target window.]

Sun 2001-07-08

An Arctic Fox In Charge of the Henhouse

A Reuters News story by Yereth Rosen, 19 Jun 2001, was echoed in political activism groups at Deja Goo. Reuters reported that Interior Secretary Gale Norton had appointed "Cam Toohey as her special assistant for Alaska."

Environmental News Service was more pointed: "Interior Secretary Gale Norton has named Camden Toohey, an oil lobbyist, as her Special Assistant... Since 1996, Toohey has served as executive director of Arctic Power."
Arctic Power, a primary supporter of oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge, receives its money from state tax dollars appropriated by the Alaska Legislature and from the British oil giant BP, among other funders.
If this inbreeding seems a little much, remember: blood is thicker than water, but oil is downright viscous. Toohey (whose "group is still lobbying hard for drilling in the refuge"), told ENN, "I feel good about our chances."

Why does Cam Toohey feel so good? It's not merely that he has another more prestigious job spending (and being paid) government money. Given his previous mission as Executive Director of Arctic Power, Cam may be downright giddy.

Back in January, 1997, Alexander's Gas and Oil Connections identified Arctic Power as "an oil-industry group." On behalf of Arctic Power, Toohey acknowledged that "federal approval to drill in the wildlife refuge is the top priority."

Further web searches reveal more clues. Richard Mostyn, of Yukon News, titled his 15 Jul 1998 essay, "Caribou spook easily". It is required reading for anyone wishing to comprehend the dissonance between Toohey's goals and reality in the wildlife refuge. Mostyn's revealing narrative arises from his personal experience on caribou land:
The evidence of the animals' past crossings was everywhere. Their hoofprints were everywhere. Over the centuries, they had worn deep ruts into the hills surrounding our camp on their annual migrations to and from their calving grounds on the North Slope of the Yukon and Alaska.
Mostyn explained that Arctic Power's budget for 1998 included "$250,000 a year from the state of Alaska" (an intriguing funding source, for an oil industry lobbying group). He also described something of Toohey's past, including politics, gold mining, and a 1996 invitation to lead the lobbying efforts of Arctic Power.

In the article, Cam Toohey admitted that oil industry goals are easier to achieve with higher oil prices: "When the issue isn't hot and heavy, it's difficult to raise funds." Toohey went on to criticize environmental groups who were recording events in the refuge, with the accusation that, "It's just another gimmick to raise money in the winter months."

Toohey's reasoning is both peculiar and transparent. He favors higher gas prices for Americans (which will ease his own fundraising efforts). However, he opposes recording caribou activity (which may help fund the defense of the refuge).

Based upon his firsthand observations of the North Slope environment, Mostyn of Yukon News concluded:
...get down into it and you'll find a rich and complex ecosystem, filled with ducks, insects, wildflowers, grasses, wolves, eagles, owls, foxes, bears and muskox. It's also fragile, which we learned watching the caribou trying to cross the Kongakut River. Watching them, we began to understand that even our small group could have an impact on their movements.
Thanks, for the insight, Richard -- but be certain to avoid any impact on Cam Toohey, the oil barons' favorite son.

Priming the Pump

In March of 2001, Yereth Rosen of Reuters described growing grants of money to Arctic Power from Alaskan legislators: "$225,000 to $550,000 typically allocated for the lobbying effort each year."

This year, however - 2001 - brought a spectacular boost in funding, "mainly because of the new Bush administration's support for oil development in the refuge."
The money for lobbying approved by the legislature was part of a larger budget package and will be donated to Arctic Power, an Anchorage-based organization that is promoting oil development in the wildlife reserve.
Donated? Why would the Alaskan Legislature donate (wait for it...) $1,500,000? Can that figure be right?

Apparently so, according to a 15 Feb 2001 press release from the State Legislature. The office of the Alaskan State Legislature House Majority (led by Rep. Eldon Mulder and Rep. Bill Williams) acknowledged:
Among the key state general fund allocations in HB0117B: $1.5 million to Arctic Power, a[n] organization building national support for opening the coastal plain of ANWR to oil exploration and development...
* Sec. 2. DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. The sum of $1,500,000 is appropriated from the general fund to the Department of Community and Economic Development for payment as a grant under AS 37.05.316 to Arctic Power for education efforts to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration and development.
Unfortunately, $1.5 million simply wasn't enough cash for the oil industry's needs. The final bill included $1,850,000 for Arctic Power and supporting activities. A quick search for House Bill 177 finds that it swelled later, as HB0117D:
(a) The sum of $1,600,000 is appropriated from the general fund to the Department of Community and Economic Development for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2001, and June 30, 2002, for payment as a grant under AS 37.05.316 to Arctic Power for education efforts to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration and development. The amount appropriated in this subsection includes $100,000 for the participation of the City of Kaktovik in support of the education efforts undertaken by Arctic Power under this subsection.

(b) The sum of $250,000 is appropriated from the general fund to the Department of Community and Economic Development for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2001, and June 30, 2002, for payment as a grant under AS 37.05.316 to Arctic Power for educational media efforts for targeted Congressional districts to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration and development.
Now that's a lot of education. A donation of nigh onto two megabucks would seem to demand strict oversight and accountability. In fact, that question had arisen before the Alaska Legislature Finance Committee, led by Senator Dave Donley and Senator Pete Kelly. In a press release, Donley responded sternly:
During testimony on HB 117 earlier in the week, concerns were raised that Arctic Power is not accountable for how they spend the funds that the state provides.

"This simply isn't true," said Donley. "Arctic Power provides us with general guidelines of how they are going to spend the money before we grant it to them. But they do have a specific strategy, and requiring them to publicly detail ahead of time what that strategy is would not be in the best interest of the state." Arctic Power will subsequently provide a full accounting of what they spent, the same as any state agency would.
According to House Finance Committee Co-Chair Rep. Eldon Mulder, "Supplementals are the Legislature's mechanism for funding needs that can't wait for the normal budget year to start in July..."

Why the rush? Recall that the appropriation was announced by the Alaska Republican House Majority on 15 Feb 2001. Four days later, Judy Erickson's Gas Line Review quoted Toohey (as cited among Defenders of Wildlife web pages):
"We're in the middle of the campaign," Cam Toohey, Arctic Power's executive director, explained via teleconference. Any documents the organization releases are likely to help the opposition." Arctic Power is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act that calls for public access to most government documents. "That's why Arctic Power is doing this, and not the state."
So, in a special appropriations bill, outside the normal budget process, the Alaskan legislature gave over $1,500,000 to Arctic Power ... a group whose strategy is unknown. At least, the legislators want it to be unknown to the public.

The Hot Oil Treatment

On 25 Apr 2001, Ben Spiess of the Anchorage Daily News revealed why oil companies prefer certain events be kept out of the public eye. To quote Linda Descano, Director of Social Awareness Investing with Smith Barney in New York : "The high-profile battle also packs risks to corporate reputations, particularly for BP, which is trying to pitch itself as an environmentally friendly firm".

The article title spoke volumes: "ANWR's oil is risky business." The tag line was equally apt: "HOT SEAT: Big companies quiet on issue that could burn them." Speiss went on to explain that British Petroleum and Phillips Petroleum share a common strategy:
Corporate officials shun being quoted in the media and air no ads in Washington, D.C. Corporate lobbyists have taken a back seat to state-funded pro-development lobbyists. And relative to the state, companies are giving less money than in the past toward lobbying efforts...

BP already is under fire from a group of shareholders. Last year, a proposal not to drill in ANWR won a surprising 13 percent of the vote at its annual shareholder meeting. Being on the losing side of a contentious issue like ANWR could spoil the company's effort to rebrand itself as a green firm and, possibly, hurt market share and business relations far from Alaska...

This year, with a pro-development president in the White House, Arctic Power will spend over $2 million. Director Cam Toohey said that 85 percent comes from the state of Alaska. Between 1996 and 1999, the state typically contributed 40 to 50 percent, according to Arctic Power tax filings. Between this year and last year, [British Petroleum's] contribution stayed flat at $50,000. Phillips declined comment on what it gave Arctic Power..."
The Daily News closed succinctly: "For now, the companies seem to be leaving the lobbying to Arctic Power."

An Unblinking web search can reveal even more about arrangements between Arctic Power, the oil industry, and one politico or another. (Surprise: you and I were not consulted :-) Watch this space next week, as UnBlinking explains just how slick oil can be, in part four of Getting Drilled in a Pristine Area.

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