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Lawmakers pleased with trip to D.C.

Stedman preparing for June summit

Posted: March 12, 2013 - 7:51pm  |  Updated: March 13, 2013 - 12:03am
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, talks in his Capitol office Tuesday about last week's legislative trip to Washington, D.C., for the annual meeting of the Energy Council which he currently chairs.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, talks in his Capitol office Tuesday about last week's legislative trip to Washington, D.C., for the annual meeting of the Energy Council which he currently chairs.

An excursion by legislators to Washington, D.C., last week for a meeting of the Energy Council gave attendees insight into energy issues and opportunities to share their perspectives with the federal government, several participants said Tuesday.

The four-day Energy Council meeting, chaired by Southeast Alaska’s Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, featured presentations by federal officials, company executives, energy researchers, and others, including a rear admiral in the United States Navy and Kazakhstan’s ambassador to the U.S., according to a meeting agenda.

“I think that the presentations were very good,” Gardner said. “The presenters were all people who are just experts in their field, and knowledgeable.”

Stedman highlighted a few notable speakers, including an ExxonMobil consultant who spoke on Arctic energy issues, University of Alaska Fairbanks Vice Chancellor Mark Myers, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, and Adam Sieminski, administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“One of the comments (Sieminski) made that stood out pertaining to Alaska was a reference that Alaska’s gas export line and (liquefied natural gas) facility proposal … looks financially feasible and should go forward,” said Stedman. “The guy from the Energy Information agency thinks that is a viable project. I’d say that he’s probably fairly well informed and probably has some basis for his conclusion.”

The Energy Council includes some 15 energy-producing states and provinces, which pay membership dues to the organization. The oil-rich country of Venezuela is also a member, although Stedman said it rarely participates in the meetings. A delegation from Kazakhstan was also invited to participate in last week’s meeting.

“Kazakhstan was a very good one,” said Rep. Doug Isaacson, R-North Pole, a first-time Energy Council participant. “I met with some of their folks, and there’s a lot of parallels between what we could do in Alaska and what they’re doing in Kazakhstan.”

More than 20 legislators traveled to Washington, D.C., last week for the Energy Council meeting, a roundtable of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region’s Arctic Caucus, or both.

“It’s extremely beneficial to belong to an organization like this,” Stedman said. “It helps you recognize how valuable our hydrocarbon basin is.”

Stedman also said, “One of the things that I find interesting with the Energy Council is keeping a feel for the trends, not only nationally, but what’s going on around the world with energy.”

Isaacson agreed that the Energy Council trip was a worthwhile endeavor.

“It was excellent, not just for the content of the Energy Council and PNWER meetings, but also for our opportunity to reach staff of the congresspeople,” said Isaacson. He added, “I made some good contacts both in the industry and congressional and the other states, learned quite a few of the other issues.”

The Energy Council events typically began at 7:30 a.m. and ended by 2 p.m. Stedman called that “standard practice” for conferences of its type.

“What I’ve found is if these conferences run all day … your participation is going to drop like a rock, and people are going to get tired and tune out,” Stedman explained.

The early afternoon end to each day’s events gave participants time to set up other meetings in the nation’s capital.

Isaacson, who is the co-chairman of the House Energy Committee, held up two fistfuls of business cards he collected from people he met with and offices he visited during his time in Washington, D.C. He read off the names of several members of Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, of which Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is the Republican ranking member.

Isaacson said he and other PNWER representatives met with Wyden’s staff for “over an hour” on Friday.

Gardner said she met with several congressional staffers, as well as with officials from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“What’s really, I think, the greatest value is when we, as legislators, fan out,” said Gardner.

Chairing the Energy Council meeting itself kept Stedman busy, the Sitka senator said.

“I didn’t have time to run around and chit-chat with people on the Hill,” said Stedman.

Not every Energy Council member state or province sends a delegation to all four annual meetings, Stedman said. He said Alaska — where the State Legislature grinds more or less to a halt for a few days every March to allow members to attend the meeting without fear of missing floor votes or committee hearings — is consistent in its participation.

“I think it’s important for Alaska always to have a really visible presence,” said Gardner. “Energy Council is a good way to do it, because there’s already people there talking about it, talking about issues that impact us dramatically. We want a seat at the table. We want our voices heard.”

The Energy Council meeting ran from last Thursday through last Sunday, with Sunday being a shortened day.

The next Energy Council meeting will be in June, Stedman said, with delegations meeting in North Dakota and possibly visiting the Bakken shale formation, a major site of oil and gas development in the United States.

Stedman is the Energy Council chairman through this summer. The chairmanship rotates among veteran lawmakers who participate in the Energy Council.

Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, did not participate in last week’s Energy Council meeting, as he was busy co-chairing Alaska’s contribution to the Arctic Caucus.

Herron said the two days of Arctic Caucus activity last week, during which he said he met with Murkowski, officials from the White House and U.S. State Department, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, helped to improve Alaska’s often strained relationship with the federal government.

“We’re very upbeat about our new relationship,” Herron said.

Legislators who met with Salazar presented the outgoing secretary with letters urging him not to deny approval for an access road from King Cove through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to an all-weather airport, which Alaska state legislators and members of Alaska’s congressional delegation argue is needed to provide King Cove residents with year-round access to emergency medical care.

Herron characterized the reception from Salazar as “polite.” He said he told them that he would read and consider the letters.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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