ANCHORAGE - Alaska lawmakers from both major parties said they have growing concerns about Attorney General Gregg Renkes' role in a potentially lucrative coal deal with Taiwan involving a company with personal ties to him.
Some Republican lawmakers said they're troubled by reports based on state documents that show Renkes was deeply involved in putting together the proposed coal project.
"It looks like a serious ethical problem. If he can't dispel it, he should step down," said House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole. "He's under pressure to produce the facts that he didn't do anything wrong. If he can defend himself, I'm open to it. If he can't, he should step down."
Renkes said he has no intention of resigning.
The Taiwan project aims to put the low-grade Beluga fields west of Anchorage into development by using a coal-drying technology developed by KFx Inc. of Denver. Renkes once consulted for the company, and he owned stock in it until news of his investment and trading activity emerged.
Gov. Frank Murkowski, hired Robert Bundy, former U.S. Attorney for Alaska, to review Renkes' behavior and determine whether he violated the law. Until the report comes out, the governor will not comment, said Becky Hultberg, a spokeswoman for Murkowski.
Renkes is a confidant of Murkowski, having worked for him in Congress for more than a decade.
In early October, Renkes said he had done nothing wrong. Two days later he sold the stock and moved his other holdings into a blind trust.
"I'm very concerned," said Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau. "This better be cleaned up before the session starts or I'm going to be very disappointed. It's a distraction to the people's businesses."
The Legislature convenes in January.
Murkowski gave Bundy no deadline, although Bundy has said he hopes to complete his report by the end of the year.
Because Renkes' reputation is at stake and because he holds such a high position in state government, Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said he's not prepared to call for the attorney general's resignation at this point.
"As elected public officials, we have to be respectful of the formal legal process," Hawker said.
Hawker said he's concerned that Democrats, who called on Renkes to resign weeks ago, may use the matter to their advantage.
Democrats on Monday renewed their call for Renkes to step down or for Murkowski to fire him. The evidence of an ethics breach is overwhelming, said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage.
"It's stunning to me that he's continuing to get a paycheck from the Murkowski administration," French said.
French has reviewed hundreds of state documents that outline the central role Renkes played in the coal deal. French, a former prosecutor, said he has urged the U.S. attorney in Alaska and federal securities regulators to investigate the attorney general for possible insider trading.
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