Tara Sweeney serves as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, a political post at the Department of the the Interior. Photo: Navajo Nation Washington Office

Alaska Native corporation celebrated drilling victory at White House

The Trump era hasn't been the greatest for tribes in the lower 48 but it's been a different story for one wealthy Alaska Native corporation.

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation has lobbied Congress for decades to approve oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The campaign finally paid off when Republicans on Capitol Hill authorized development in a tax bill that President Donald Trump eagerly supported.

ASRC, which boasts nearly $2.7 billion in annual revenue, welcomed passage of H.R.1, also known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in a press release at the time. But the firm also got to celebrate at the White House with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence after the bill cleared its final hurdle in December 2017, The New York Times reports.

“We like being under the radar,” Teresa Imm, ASRC’s senior vice president for resource development, told the paper.

The momentous occasion was memorialized in a photo that appeared on the cover of the 2017 fourth quarter issue of Uqalugaaŋich, ASRC's newsletter. Tara Sweeney, one of the firm's long-serving executives and one of its 13,000 shareholders, can be seen standing behind a beaming Trump.

The 2017 fourth quarter issue of Uqalugaaŋich.

At the time, Sweeney was awaiting confirmation to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, a political post at the Department of the Interior. She had been nominated by Trump just a couple of months prior and was among the biggest boosters of development in ANWR.

"When I start to name names, I think of Tara Sweeney," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a speech on the Senate floor in which she singled out the corporate executive for making the case for drilling in ANWR.

ASRC stands to benefit greatly from development. The firm owns the subsurface rights to about 92,000 acres in the so-called 1002 Area of ANWR, where oil and gas reserves are said to be substantial.

ASRC also owns a number of subsidiaries in the energy development industry that could land contracts for development. Additionally, Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, another Native corporation, owns the surface rights to the 92,000 acres in ANWR.

“I have given this a lot of thought, and our community has given this a lot of thought,” Matthew Rexford, the president of Kaktovik, told The Times. “We do feel it can be done in an environmentally safe and sound manner.”

Sweeney was confirmed as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs on June 29. She started working in Washington, D.C., about a month later.

According to a disclosure on file with the Office of Government Ethics, Sweeney earned $1 million as an executive vice president for ASRC in 2017. She has received upwards of $1 million in additional "incentive" payments, the document showed.

Sweeney has not divested her shares in ASRC so she will personally benefit from any improvements that might be attributed to development in ANWR. But she has vowed to recuse herself from matters affecting the corporation, according to an ethics letter on file with the Department of the Interior. She also will forgo those "incentive" payments during her time in the Trump administration.

Read More on the Story
In the Blink of an Eye, a Hunt for Oil Threatens Pristine Alaska (The New York Times December 3, 2018)

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