Palin brings back ex-commissioner

Former head of state's natural resources had left under Murkowski

Posted: Sunday, February 11, 2007

A former head of Alaska's natural resources department who was forced from his position when he criticized Gov. Frank Murkowski's contract negotiations for a natural gas pipeline is back on the job.

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Gov. Sarah Palin on Friday announced the appointment of Tom Irwin as Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.

Marty Rutherford, who has served as acting commissioner since Palin took office, was named deputy commissioner.

Palin said Irwin was the right man for the job.

"Tom has the experience, talent and know-how to manage Alaska's resources and bring those resources, including Alaska's gas reserves, to market," Palin said in a prepared statement.

Palin said Rutherford, who is currently drafting legislation for Palin to guide future gas line negotiations, will continue to lead her gas line team.

Irwin, who was first appointed commissioner in January 2003, was asked to resign in October 2005 after he wrote a memo questioning the legality of state concessions to oil producers during contract negotiations for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said he'd fit in better with the Palin administration.

"He certainly ruffled some feathers in the previous administration over some issues," he said Friday in a telephone interview. Harris said he was aware Palin was considering Irwin for full-time commissioner and supported the nomination.

"I like Tom, he's a friend of mine," he said.

Rutherford and five other high-ranking department officials quit in protest of Irwin's ouster.

Irwin is currently working as vice president of government and public affairs for Golden Valley Electric Company.

He also led Palin's transition team for the department.

• The Juneau Empire contributed to this report.

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