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Pat Pourchot, legislative director for Gov. Tony Knowles, was appointed state commissioner of natural resources today.
Pourchot, 51, is a former legislator from Anchorage and former executive director of Commonwealth North, a bipartisan public policy group.
He has worked on natural resources issues for the U.S. Department of the Interior, former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the state Senate Resources Committee and the NANA Regional Corp.
"As my legislative director for the past six years, Pat has been a trusted friend and advisor, and it will be good to continue to work with him as he returns to his roots in responsible resource management," Knowles said in a written statement.
Pourchot, who replaces John Shively, said restoring some of the department's budget cuts in recent years will be a high priority. The department has about 750 employees, down by hundreds from its peak, he said.
"It's no secret that the department has really been under some severe budget constraints," he said in an interview. "We need to convince the Legislature that if you want sound management of our lands and water, we need to put some resources into that. ...
"I think, frankly, the burden is on the administration. We have to prove the need, and I think we can."
The Republican majority in the Legislature said at the end of the 2000 session it had achieved its goal of cutting the state budget $250 million in five years. The exact dollar amount is open to debate, Pourchot said.
Now the question is "whether cutting the budget in arbitrary dollar amounts is still a high priority," he said. "We have to now look around and see where we may have gone too far."
Pourchot also expects to play a key role in plans to bring natural gas reserves on the North Slope to market. Knowles said last week that he expects a pipeline will be built to send gas to the Lower 48.
"We want to have the companies do it right, of course," Pourchot said.
For now, the administration isn't favoring any of the proposed routes or technologies, but Pourchot said it is likely to state a preference later.
Among other issues Pourchot will be tackling is the standoff between the administration and the Legislature on a bill granting land to the University of Alaska. He will be looking for a way to avoid further conflict or litigation between the branches of government.
Pourchot said he is keeping his legal residence in Anchorage but will live in Juneau during legislative sessions. Only about 50 DNR employees live in Juneau, which makes management of the department easier from Anchorage the rest of the year, he said.
The DNR vacancy was the third filled by Knowles in the past week. He appointed former Juneau Sen. Jim Duncan to succeed Bob Poe as commissioner of administration, and Glenn Godfrey, director of the Alaska State Troopers, to succeed Ron Otte as commissioner of public safety.