President Obama plans to boost the effort to develop Alaska's natural gas resources into the executive office of the White House, according to legislators who visited Washington, D.C., to discuss energy issued with other legislators.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, recently nominated legislative aide Larry Persily for the Obama appointment as federal coordinator. Persily has support from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as well.
He is now awaiting confirmation by the Senate, after having been approved by the Senate Energy Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said a top Obama administration official, former Alaskan Pete Rouse, told Alaska legislators in Washington that Obama would be more than just verbally supporting the Alaska natural gas pipeline.
"Mr. Rouse said the president was planning to elevate the Alaska gas line coordinator's office effort into the executive office of the president once Mr. Persily is in place and is official," he said.
After returning from Washington, Ellis told colleagues on the Senate floor Monday that Persily was likely to win confirmation and be well-placed to give Alaska's views on the gas pipeline.
"I guess the president is quite impressed with Larry Persily," he said.
Persily declined to comment on the possibility of the elevation of the coordinator position.
"The White House was pretty clear with me that I should not speculate about what that job may or may not be," he said.
Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said the message she and others received from the Energy Council meetings was that Obama would raise the coordinator's profile.
"They want to boost his position, get him access to an executive committee on energy issues," she said.
The president will be not just coordinating the pipeline project but actively pushing for it, Gardner said.
Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said there is a national consensus that Alaska's natural gas needs to be developed.
"There's no doubt about that; Congress still considers the Alaska pipeline to be in the national interest," he said.
Persily currently works for House Finance Committee Co-chair Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, but has bipartisan support in the state as well as Washington, D.C.
"I think we're fortunate to have Larry there. He knows us; he knows our issues. I think he'll be very good for the state of Alaska," Johnson said.
Persily, a former managing editor of the Juneau Empire, also worked for former Gov. Sarah Palin as an associate director of the state's Washington, D.C. office.
He in the past has served as editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News and as a deputy commissioner in the Department of Revenue.
He remains president of the board of Juneau's Wildflower Court.
Two competing pipeline efforts are now underway, including the Alaska Pipeline Project, backed by the state under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act and a joint effort - called Denali - by oil companies ConocoPhillips Co. and BP.
The charge of the federal coordinator is to push for a pipeline, but does not give preference to any specific plan.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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