By Libby Casey
A third of Alaska’s legislators are in Washington D-C right now for meetings about energy issues. They’re attending the annual conference of the Energy Council, a group made up of a dozen oil and gas producing states, 6 Canadian provinces, and Venezuela.
The 20 state legislators that journeyed down to D-C took some heat back home for the size of their group, especially since the conference falls in the middle of the 90 day session. But Anchorage Republican Representative Craig Johnson says he hopes every legislator gets to this meeting at some point, because it makes his job easier.
I’m thrilled that the number of legislators come, and are being educated and talking to people, so that when we have these conversations I don’t have to start from ground zero to educate. They have a basis, so it’s important they’re here to hear other perspectives, to gain insight into industry.
Johnson is on the Energy Council’s executive committee. The group is active in oil and gas producing pockets of North America, but doesn’t get much press attention, and doesn’t even have a working website. However participants say it brings together people dealing with the same energy challenges. Johnson says even though regions may ostensibly be competing for turf in the oil and gas market, they can bond together for common causes.
What the market won’t fix are regulations, rules, overly intrusive, state and federal, regulations that prevent exploration, prevent the things to happen, to get the energy to market. And we can learn a lot, how did they do it in Wyoming, where they were able to do things in such a way that made sense.
One of the “new faces” at this year’s conference is Matanuska-Susitna borough Republican Senator Linda Menard, in her first term. She’s a big supporter of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act created under Governor Palin to incentivize building a gasline. But Menard says she’s here to learn and hear what others outside Alaska think.
I feel strongly that AGIA we need to give it the time, we’ve got regulatory things, and we have open season may 1st. So I just wanted to be open, and come to this meeting, and hear of other options out there.
One of the Alaskan attendees critical of AGIA says this is a good time to get out of state and put his ear to the ground. Fairbanks Republican Representative Jay Ramras says this is his way of getting past the opinions of the Governor’s office and the state’s Natural Resources Department:
If we are spoon-fed information by hand-picked experts by D-N-R and by the Department of Revenue in Alaska, if you have input in a provincial environment, you’re gonna get output in a provincial environment. When we come to DC it expands our horizons, it exposes us to the global marketplace, and the political marketplace.
Most legislators approached by A-P-R-N were eager to share their perspective, however Bethel Democratic Senator Lyman Hoffman refused an interview saying he only talks with “real people” and Sitka Senator Bert Stedman said he had nothing to say.
But Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner says there’s so much more going on in Washington this week along-side the Energy Council conference – she says the most exciting was a White House meeting with Pete Rouse, who once lived in Alaska and now advises President Obama. A handful of Alaska Democrats were invited to the West Wing.
We actually met in Rahm Emmauel’s office, larger conference room that Pete had.
Garnder says they heard a message that the President STILL considers an Alaska gasline in the nation’s interest and part of an overall energy plan. She heard from the White House staff that they’re eager to get moving once Larry Persily is confirmed by the Senate as the new federal coordinator on Alaska gas projects.
They anticipate that his role will be greatly increased, and he’ll still be involved with some permitting, but it will almost be incidental to his role. So that was exciting to hear.
Dillingham Democratic Representative Bryce Edgmon says being in Washington helps foster relationships with federal agencies that don’t always see eye-to-eye with Alaskans.
We heard how we have a schizophrenic relationship with DC. That is so true. On one hand they’re our ally, and we work together, on other hand they are our opponent.
So perhaps it’s a matter of keeping your friends close, and your enemies closer.
The legislators head back to Alaska this weekend, and say they’ll be ready for work in Juneau on Monday.