Inupiats want investigation of anti-drillers
Facebook Twitter Email

Citing close ties to the Gwich'in Nation, an Inupiat-owned corporation in Alaska has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate an environmental group opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Alaska Wilderness League uses too much of its money to fight drilling on Inupiat-owned lands, said Fenton Rexford, president of Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, a regional Alaska Native corporation. Along with the village government of Kaktovik, Fenton wants the I.R.S to find out whether the tax-exempt group is violating federal law by lobbying members of Congress and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose drilling.

But while Fenton told I.R.S. Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti that Alaska Wilderness League has "vigorously taken up the cause" of the Gwich'in, yesterday he denied Kaktovik was using an investigation as an excuse to silence his long-time rivals.

"The issue is for I.R.S. to look into [the league's] status and the protocol that they are under as a non-profit," said Fenton from his hotel room in Anchorage, where he is attending Alaska Federation of Native events this week.

The Gwich'in, he insisted, are "not the issue."

To Adam Kolton, director of Alaska Wilderness League's anti-drilling effort, Fenton's challenge is a thinly-veiled attempt to strike back at the Gwich'in. Kolton said his group works "very closely" with the Athabaskan tribe, who fear drilling will destroy their entire way of life.

Kolton also flatly denied all of Fenton's charges, decrying the effort as a "really malicious attack" on his organization and the Gwich'in. "It's unfortunate when that debate becomes personal," he said of rivalries among pro- and anti-drilling camps.

"We have no concern whatsoever about this," Kolton added.

As a non-profit, Alaska Wilderness League's financial statements are public information, said Kolton. He invited Fenton to review the group's tax returns, which were just audited, and was convinced Kaktovik would not have filed its complaint had they done so.

Fenton acknowledged he had no knowledge of his corporation or the village government contacting the league. But he declined Kolton's offer to review the books, saying "I'll just have to wait and see what the I.R.S. has to say about this."

Among the lobbying expenses Fenton alleges are illegal was a 1997 junket to ANWR. Fenton says spending $15,000 to convince Congress to vote against development is an unfair to his corporation and the Inupiat people.

Should development in the coastal plain of ANWR occur, the Inupiat expect financial and social benefits. Together, Inupiats have rights to about 92,000 acres of land within the refuge and stand to reap royalty and other revenues.

Gwich'in leaders, also in Anchorage for AFN, yesterday reserved comment on Fenton's charges. In the past, Gwich'in representatives have battled it out with Inupiats over drilling, often drawing up old and bitter disputes.

A spokesperson for the I.R.S. declined comment on the matter, saying investigations are private. Should any action be taken on Fenton's complaint, said the I.R.S., it may not be made public, although fines could be levied.

Alaska Wilderness League is based in Washington, D.C. A 2000 tax return Kolton provided showed the group had revenues of about $1 million, of which a little less than half was derived from public money.

Relevant Links:
Alaska Wilderness League -
Gwich'in Steering Committee -
Oil Issues in ANWR, US Fish and Wildlife -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service -
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pro-Development site -

Related Stories:
Norton admits ANWR 'mistake' (10/23)
Norton staff rewrote Arctic drilling data (10/19)
Arctic drilling debate continues (10/15)
Bush promotes ANWR as home security (10/12)
ANWR supporters say don't have votes (10/12)
ANWR had votes to clear Senate panel (10/11)
Okla. lawmakers see hope for energy (10/11)
I'm not President but I play one on TV (10/11)
Bingaman halts Senate energy bill (10/10)
Bingaman: Scale back energy tax breaks (10/9)
ANWR spared in defense vote (10/3)