OPINION: Gasline project shouldn’t require a Pollyanna press

Other than projecting relentless optimism about the prospects for the Alaska LNG Project, the second constant from its leadership and proponents has been criticism of the press coverage it receives.

Over and over we’ve heard Alaska Gasline Development Corp. President Keith Meyer rip the news coverage of the project as overly negative and damaging in foreign markets.

In this issue we share an opinion piece by two advocates for the Alaska LNG Project who are now channeling Meyer’s press critiques, this time on the topic of the state’s trade relationship with China.

“We should celebrate being an international exporter and be concerned when local voices speak negatively about our business partners around the world,” write the authors Doug Griffin and Tim Dillon of the Southeast Alaska Municipal Conference and the Kenai Economic Development District, respectively. “… As Alaskan economic development entities, we envision a future where we see more and more headlines telling a positive Alaska-China story.”

Touting Gov. Bill Walker’s upcoming trade mission to China, the authors note the country’s status as the state’s biggest export destination with $1.32 billion in products last year, just more than 60 percent of that in seafood.

Meyer spent a lot of time in China over the past year-plus working on a deal that culminated in the signing of an agreement last November outlining a framework that could have the country investing in up to 75 percent of the project costs in exchange for 75 percent of the LNG it will produce.

On the surface, anything that helps turn the dream of unlocking the vast North Slope gas resource into a reality is a positive step. China does need cleaner energy as it has begun literally choking on its own pollution and has more than enough financial resources to invest.

Beyond that, there is every reason to air concerns about the terms China will attempt to extract in exchange for its majority-share investment and what the Walker administration would cede to China in the name of building the project he’s pursued for some 30 years.

And let’s get real: China is not Japan or Korea, Alaska’s No. 2 and 3 trading partners who are also geopolitical allies.

The list is virtually endless when it comes to China’s human rights violations, its cyberattacks on and intellectual property theft from U.S. companies, its currency manipulation, its evading of sanctions on North Korea, its military aggression and expansion in the South China Sea, and so on.

Griffin and Dillon don’t even acknowledge China’s bad behavior on these numerous fronts, and appear to want the press, legislators and business stakeholders to ignore these issues entirely in the name of increasing Alaska trade regardless of who it is with.

They also don’t mention that the vast majority of those seafood exports are reprocessed in China and sold elsewhere through value-adding that we should aim to happen in Alaska and not celebrate as a penultimate trade achievement.

China is ruthlessly aggressive in pursuing its economic, political and military interests and it does not make deals that go against them. A healthy concern or even skepticism is hardly unwarranted when it comes to making a $40 billion-deal with the Communist leaders of the world’s largest economy.

The Walker administration is also asking for unlimited receipt authority for AGDC to accept third-party funds as its stash of previous state appropriations dwindles and its leaders have made the political decision to not seek more money from a cash-strapped state treasury.

Preserving legislative oversight of the deals AGDC is making and what pieces of state resources it contemplates trading in order to advance the project are entirely appropriate and vital to upholding the constitutional mandate to develop resources for the maximum benefit of Alaskans.

Just four years ago Walker was accusing former Gov. Sean Parnell of playing election-year politics for his moves to advance the Alaska LNG Project as an equity consortium with the three major North Slope producers and TransCanada.

Now as Walker pursues reelection his surrogates are asking critics of his plan to be quiet about the path he’s pursuing and with whom he is pursuing it.

The Alaska LNG Project will not — and should not — rise or fall based on the press coverage it receives or the amount of skepticism voiced in the Legislature or business community about its economics or the prospect of dealing with China.

Working the press and leaning on skeptics to keep quiet in the name of more “positive headlines” isn’t going to get the Alaska LNG Project built and it comes off as a sign of weakness more than strength.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Updated: 
03/28/2018 - 11:48am

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