Secretary of Interior touts state's energy potential during Juneau visit

Posted: Tuesday, April 27, 2004

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton told a crowd of 130 Alaskans at the Baranof Hotel on Monday how the Bush administration is trying to work with the state to develop its natural resources.

Norton traveled to Alaska to speak with lawmakers and Alaskans about fuel sources in the state. She spoke Monday about the abundance of energy to be found in Alaska, including that from on- and off-shore oil drilling, coal bed methane, natural gas and methane hydrates, a frozen form of natural gas found in cold climates and on deep ocean floors.

"She's showing a genuine interest in solving problems rather than just documenting them," said Ron Somerville, who works in the governor's office. "She's being a user-friendly secretary of the Interior."

Norton briefly outlined how the administration is trying to work with Alaskans to develop the resources in what she said is a responsible manner. The Department of the Interior is working to lower energy costs for Americans, Norton said.

"We cannot simply discuss the economic security of our families ... without taking into account the need for affordable energy in this nation," she said.

To ensure affordable energy, President Bush has created a comprehensive environmental plan to increase America's fuel production, Norton said.

The plan focuses on environmental conservation and the development of renewable resources. It also focuses on finding new supplies of traditional energy including oil, natural gas and coal, Norton said to the applause of audience members.

Alaska has large amounts of these fuel types, she said, but more time and money is needed to bring them to market.

"Just the volume of energy resources is quite staggering," said Peter Bittenbender, an employee of the Bureau of Land Management in Juneau. "I found it interesting that the potential is there. Alaska has phenomenal potential."

Norton is on a four-day tour of Alaska that began Sunday in Sitka. She had breakfast at the Governor's House on Monday and held a fund-raiser for the Republican National Committee in Juneau on Monday evening.

Monday afternoon, a ceremony was held officially transferring control of the Sentinel Island Lighthouse from the Department of the Interior to the nonprofit Gastineau Channel Historical Society.

Today Norton planned to visit Glacier Bay National Park. On Wednesday, she planned a visit to Anchorage that included another fund-raising event.

Pam LaBolle, president of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, organized the Monday luncheon with the help of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

"I was just very happy with the number of people that showed up and with their positive attitude," LaBolle said.

Though Norton's speech contained no new information for LaBolle, she was glad to hear that the development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is still a high priority for President Bush, she said.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at christine.schmid@juneauempire.com.



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