Alaska editorial: Skeptics play role in gas line negotiations

Posted: Friday, January 20, 2006

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

House Republicans should get a nod of appreciation for inviting the former commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources to discuss his concerns about the Murkowski administration's efforts to secure a contract with three major oil companies to build a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.

Former Commissioner Tom Irwin - who resigned or was squeezed out of his job or was outright fired, depending on who you believe - laid out some of his fears at an open meeting of the Republican House members last week. He was accompanied at the session by Mark Myers, the former director of the state Division of Oil and Gas who was among a group of six state employees who immediately quit their jobs when Mr. Irwin departed.

Mr. Irwin's message on Thursday was a strong one: "When a program is rolled out, we'll be told what we'll make, but I'm concerned that we won't hear what we could have made."

Mr. Myers had an equally strong sentiment: "We should put all three contracts out there and let legislators decide what's best for the state."

The willingness of the House GOP to hear from these two men, who had worked intimately on the gas pipeline issue for Gov. Frank Murkowski, is important and is a good indicator that the Legislature may indeed be taking its role in the gas line proposal seriously. It will be the Legislature - its 20 senators and 40 representatives - that will be called on to approve or reject a contract proposal if one is put forward by the governor.

Alaskans will be looking to the Legislature for assurance that a contract proposal presented by the administration is indeed in the best interest of the state and is the best that could be had. The administration has put all its effort into dealing exclusively with the oil companies - ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and BP - and has left the two other suitors out in the cold. That decision has left many people wondering whether Alaska will truly be getting the best deal. It may prove to be the best deal, but it should be put to the test.

Listening to skeptics of the administration's course of action is a key part of ensuring public confidence in the end agreement. House Speaker John Harris says a series of hearings are planned so that legislators can become more informed about the complex pipeline debate. Alaskans should hope that those sessions, too, are open so that they as well as legislators can become knowledgeable on what will clearly be one of the most momentous decisions in state history.



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