JUNEAU - Attorney General Dan Sullivan, who has led the state's legal fights against the federal government on land and resource issues, said he's willing to work with agencies to develop Alaska as the state's new natural resources commissioner.
Sullivan, 46, was named to the post Thursday by Gov. Sean Parnell, who vowed to bring "new innovators" into his cabinet after winning election earlier this month.
Sullivan replaces longtime commissioner Tom Irwin, one of a handful of top officials and holdovers from Sarah Palin's administration who tendered their resignation after Parnell's win.
Sullivan told The Associated Press that he didn't seek out the job; he said he was content in the role he had, a post to which he'd won easy confirmation from lawmakers earlier this year. But Parnell asked him to consider it and laid out some of the agencies priorities - issues that in many cases overlapped with what Sullivan was already working on.
Parnell, in a speech to the Resource Development Council in Anchorage, said Sullivan's experience working on global energy and economic issues in former President George W. Bush's administration, along with the legal fights he has waged with the federal government for Alaska, make him a good fit for the new job.
Parnell said he hasn't yet decided who to nominate as Sullivan's replacement. He said he'd like to have someone in place by Dec. 6, when he's sworn in and most of his new appointments are set to begin their work, but he didn't want to rush finding the "best, most competent" candidate.
The appointments are still subject to legislative confirmation.
Sullivan has been involved in issues like seeking to overturn special protections for beluga whales in Cook Inlet and to end them for Stellar sea lions. His office also has been working to negotiate a settlement with oil and gas companies over the disputed Point Thomson leases on Alaska's North Slope; these leases are seen as critical to the prospects of a long-hoped-for major natural gas pipeline.
Sullivan said his first priority will be to meet with a range of interests, including leaders within the Department of Natural Resources, lawmakers and industry representatives. He said to be successful in responsibly developing the state's resources means building partnerships among the broad array of interests.
"I do think it's important to recognize ... we are at a moment where we have challenges, but the opportunities for the state and our citizens and our economic future are just countless," he said in a phone interview minutes after his appointment was announced.
"I mean, the amount of resources that we have, that other parts of the United States, other parts of the world need, provides us with a position that I think, in many ways, is the the envy of many states, most states, and many countries. And I think it's important to remember that, and I think if everybody works together, we can responsibly develop these and create an economic future that's bright for Alaska."
To that end, he said he intends to meet with federal officials, to advocate the state's position for developing its resources, and also work to bring in environmental groups.
Parnell has been vocal about his desire to open Arctic waters to offshore drilling, saying it's important for jobs and the economy. He also has been committed to seeing through the current process for getting a natural gas pipeline built, in spite of the loss of Irwin and the recent resignation of Pat Galvin as Revenue commissioner. Both were stalwart figures in that process.
Parnell told the AP he appreciated the work done on the gas project so far, but "I felt, at this point, it's important to bring the gas line discussions to the next level." He said the shake up doesn't represent a shift in direction but is intended to further the goal of commercializing Alaska gas "as quickly as possibly, in Alaska's interests."
He said Sullivan's reputation as a consensus builder - along with his legal background - will help bridge work across state agencies and interests.
Other appointments announced Thursday include Becky Hultberg as commissioner of administration; Marc Luiken, a deputy transportation commissioner, to transportation commissioner, and Cora Campbell, who advises on Parnell on fisheries issues, to serve as acting fish and game commissioner.
Parnell said he hopes to name other appointments before next week's Thanksgiving holiday.
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