Former ally criticizes Palin on gas line plan

Former Gov. Wally Hickel helped Palin get elected, but now challenges her pipeline effort

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just when Alaska has one, if not two, natural gas pipeline proposals appearing to be within its reach, a revered elder statesmen is urging rejection, and saying the state should try to instead develop an even better deal elsewhere.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire File
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire File

Both TransCanada Corp. and a competing venture sponsored by ConocoPhillips and BP are proposing natural gas pipelines across Canada to the Midwest.

Former two-time Gov. Wally Hickel has long had a passionate belief in exporting Alaska's gas to lucrative Asian markets as liquefied natural gas, and is urging the Legislature to reject a gas pipeline that would let Canadians control Alaska's gas.

"Another government is going to decide when and where that gas will go, and how it will be taxed - that's not what we won at statehood," said Malcolm Roberts, top aide to the former governor.

The Legislature is currently considering awarding a license to TransCanada that would bring with it state support for the project. The two oil companies are rushing to head off TransCanada with their own pipeline proposal.

"It may be only the TransCanada proposal that is getting the producers to move," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, a pipeline backer.

Hickel urged that the TransCanada license be rejected, and the state instead build its own all-Alaska line to a Valdez LNG export terminal.

Hickel's tactics, though, including full-page newspaper ads that appeared around the state Monday, are getting more talk than his risky proposal.

The former governor sent an e-mail to all state legislators saying an ad was coming, and threatened to link those who supported TransCanada to the Corrupt Bastards Club, and listed Marty Rutherford, head of Palin's gasline team along with that of felon Bill Allen, a prominent member of the informal club. The self-described club came to light in court documents and testimony about Republicans accused of oil-related intrigue.

Gov. Sarah Palin, an erstwhile ally, told Hickel that he'd gone too far with his efforts to derail the TransCanada plan.

She said the ad was "misleading, distorts the truth, and slanders our public servants."

A number of members of the club backed an earlier gasline plan that was supported by the state's oil industry. Many of those, including legislators and those trying to influence them, are in federal prison, while others are awaiting sentencing and trial.

That angered Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin, who lost his job in the previous administration when he challenged a gas pipeline deal supported by members of the club.

"To suggest that choosing a gasline option that differs from our vision is somehow corrupt is so wrong," Irwin shot back in an e-mail to Hickel and Roberts.

He said he was "totally and irrevocably disgusted" in the insinuation about Rutherford, his top deputy.

Roberts said the Corrupt Bastards Club reference was removed from the ad before it ran in newspapers. The intent was not to suggest Rutherford had done anything wrong, which Roberts acknowledged that liking her name with admitted criminal Allen might suggest.

"As soon as it was brought to our attention we removed that," he said. "That was my mistake, and I've apologized for it."

Hickel's ad, which ran Monday in the Empire, also listed numerous prominent Alaskans as backing his position on the gasline, including fellow former governors Bill Egan, Ernest Gruening and Jay Hammond.

All have been dead for some years, however, and are unable to corroborate Hickel's claim of support.

Roberts said the ad was simply trying to list the kind of people who would have supported an all-Alaska line.

"Governor Hickel was involved in the battle for statehood, and many of the people listed in the ad were his colleagues in fighting for control of resources," Roberts said.

One of the few live Alaskans Hickel listed as a supporter was Scott Heyworth of Anchorage, who said he's actually backing Palin's AGIA process and asked Hickel to stop using his name.

"I'm on record many, many times supporting AGIA's passage," Heyworth wrote to Hickel.

Heyworth was the sponsor of an earlier ballot measure in favor of an all-Alaska pipeline.

Roberts said they would comply with a request from Heyworth.

"We have a new version," Roberts said. "The new version omits him."

• Contact reporter Pat Forgeyat 523-2250 or e-mail

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