Alaska is different—it has moose hunters on hovercrafts, many large national parks, and certain unique federal laws. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that National Park Service laws and regulations of general applicability do not apply to inholdings within Alaska’s national parks. Sturgeon v. Frost, 587 U.S. ___ (2019).
While on a moose hunting trip twelve years ago, John Sturgeon was repairing his hovercraft on a section of the Nation River within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve (a unit of the National Park System) when park rangers ordered him to stop using the hovercraft in the preserve. Mr. Sturgeon left that day without the benefit of his hovercraft and without a moose. He later sued, arguing that the Park Service ban on hovercrafts did not apply to the Nation River, a navigable river the bed of which is owned by the State of Alaska.
This case arose under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA). When the federal government designated national park lands in ANILCA, it swept tracts of nonfederal lands (state, Alaska Native corporation, and private inholdings) within the park boundaries. ANILCA provides that no state, Native, or private inholdings “shall be subject to the regulations applicable solely to public lands within [conservation system] units.” 16 U.S.C. § 3103(c). Nonetheless, the federal government claimed that the Park Service could regulate the inholdings like park lands.
The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the Park Service and ruled that Park Service regulations do not apply to nonfederal inholdings within national parks in Alaska. Because the State of Alaska, not the United States, holds title to the submerged lands under navigable rivers running through national parks established after statehood, those submerged lands are not “public lands” under ANILCA. Second, the Supreme Court found that ANILCA also eliminated the Park Service’s authority (that it has in the Lower 48 states) to enforce national park regulations on these non-public inholdings.
This case demonstrates that the U.S. Supreme Court will require the Park Service to recognize that Congress established different laws for Alaska. This decision’s broader impacts remain to be seen. The U.S. Supreme Court expressly did not address the Ninth Circuit’s Katie John subsistence cases. It is also unclear what effect Sturgeon may have on patented or unpatented federal mining claims in national parks in Alaska under the Mining in the Parks Act of 1976. But this decision will likely require the Park Service to revisit its regulation of mineral activities on Native corporation inholdings within national park boundaries in Alaska.
The 2018 deadline to record affidavits of labor and pay rental on State of Alaska mining claims was disrupted by a 7.0 earthquake near Anchorage at 8:29 a.m. on Friday, November 30. As a result of the earthquake, the Department of Natural Resources’ Anchorage office and the State of Alaska Recorder’s Office closed, preventing the payment of rent and the recording of affidavits on the apparent last day to do so.
However, under existing DNR regulations, when the filing office is officially closed on the last day to make a filing or payment, the time for filing or paying is extended to the next day the office is open to the public:
When the last day of the time for filing or payment falls on a day the designated filing office is officially closed, the time for filing is extended to the next day the office is open to the public.
11 AAC 88.130.
State offices in Anchorage and Palmer are also closed today, December 3, 2018, and a phone call to the Juneau Recorder’s Office revealed that the servers are offline so no recording district can record documents today. This means that affidavits of labor that are recorded on Tuesday, December 4, 2018, should be considered timely. Similarly, payment of claim rentals should be considered timely if paid on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.
We are working with the Division of Mining, Land, and Water within DNR to have a formal statement issued acknowledging the effect of 11 AAC 88.130 extending the deadline for recording a 2018 affidavit of labor and paying rent.
We are aware that some claim holders submitted affidavits of labor for recording electronically and are awaiting acceptance and confirmation of those attempts to record. If you have not received confirmation from your recording district that your affidavit was accepted for recording by midday of the extended deadline, we suggest that you e-record the affidavit again.
Alaska’s rebatable production tax credit program was created by state legislators to be an incentive for explorers and small producers to invest in oil and gas exploration and production in the state but was hurt by its own success when oil prices dropped. The legislature repealed the program but a queue of valid outstanding credits still awaits payment.
My latest article for State Tax Notes:
Provides an overview of the rebatable production tax credits, which were crafted specifically to encourage exploration and development by explorers, small producers and new entrants to the state.
Outlines the status of funding to pay down the tax credit queue and notes that the explorers and small producers the tax credit was meant to lure have been the ones hardest hit by the lack of a significant appropriation to the oil and gas tax credit fund over the last two years for purchase of the outstanding balance of credit certificates.
Discusses H.B. 331, introduced in February 2018 by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, which would establish the Alaska Tax Credit Bond Corp. in the Department of Revenue and authorize it to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to finance purchases of the oil and gas tax credits.
Check back soon for a detailed look at H.B. 331 and an update about the challenges the bill is facing as to its constitutionality.