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By Joaqlin Estus 
Indian Country Today

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced plans Tuesday to introduce a bill to end the state’s relationship with banks and lenders that will not fund oil and gas development in a wildlife refuge.

He said his proposed legislation would require state agencies to end relationships and partnerships with companies that have chosen to stop financing for oil and gas exploration and development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last month.

“It makes no sense for Alaska to allow financial institutions to benefit handsomely from Alaska’s financial activities on one hand, while working against our interests on the other,” he said. “Oil and gas exploration in the Arctic has created thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue benefiting Alaskans and the country as a whole.”

Six major banks have announced they will refuse to fund oil and gas projects related to the Arctic refuge: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Swiss bank UBS.

Dunleavy said without a robust oil and gas industry, Alaska’s future is not bright and it’s his job to protect Alaska and its economic future.

Ninety percent of Alaska’s state government is funded by oil and gas revenues. The state does not levy a statewide sales tax or income tax. Rather, it pays dividends to every eligible resident from an oil- and gas-funded savings account. Annual Permanent Fund Dividend amounts have ranged from a few hundred to more than $2,000 per person.

In 2019, Dunleavy defunded or drastically slashed an array of state programs. Those included the schools and early childhood development, the University of Alaska, health and social services, ferries, senior benefits and public broadcasting.

After a recall effort quickly gained enough signatures to move forward, Dunleavy changed his tune. He is not proposing big budget cuts, nor new taxes. Still, Dunleavy has proposed a dividend of $5,000 this year.

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In August, the Gwitch’in Steering Committee, which represents Gwitch’in Athabascan people in Alaska and Canada, was one of 13 organizations that filed suit to halt the lease sales in the refuge. 

They cited wilderness values, wildlife, recreation and the importance of the refuge to the Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates from Canada every year to calving grounds on the refuge’s coastal plain. The refuge is also home to polar bears, wolves and migratory birds. The Gwitch'in have a spiritual connection to the caribou.

The United Nations is calling for an investigation into whether proposed development in the Arctic refuge violates the Gwich’in people’s human rights.

The Trump administration has rushed to complete oil and gas sales in the refuge before the president leaves office. Procedures that normally take weeks to months are scheduled to be done within days. Lease sales will be completed just days before President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

The Inupiaq Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, a regional for-profit Native corporation, provides support services to the oil industry. It supports the opening of the refuge to drilling.

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Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist.

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