OPINION: The pointless pander by Walker-Mallott on Pebble

  • Gov. Bill Walker, left, and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott join hands on stage at the end of inauguration ceremonies at Centennial Hall on Dec. 1, 2014. (Photo/Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are serious about seeking reelection, but it appears they are abandoning any attempt to win the support of the resource development industry.

How successful their effort will be remains to be seen, but after splitting off GOP votes from former Gov. Sean Parnell in 2014 the new strategy is apparently to siphon votes from Democrat challenger and former Sen. Mark Begich.

Running to the left in 2018 after appealing to Lisa Murkowski moderates as a nonthreatening alternative to Parnell in 2014 is the only explanation for the letter signed by Walker and Mallott submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 29.

At the end of the scoping period in preparation for the environmental impact statement process for the proposed Pebble mine, Walker and Mallott asked the Corps to suspend the entire effort.

To be sure, Walker and Mallott declared their opposition to Pebble in 2014, which is not a controversial position to take in Alaska. But members of the resource industry who were willing to overlook that position quickly found out that was the only position he was forthcoming about.

Walker pledged to keep the current process for the Alaska LNG Project on track; instead he immediately began to undermine it to wrest state control from the producers.

After endorsing its repeal, Walker pledged to support the results of the referendum that August that upheld the current oil production tax known as SB 21; instead he introduced a series of oil tax hikes and over two years he vetoed $630 million in payments owed to small oil and gas exploration companies that deepened the state recession and wrecked the state’s credibility with investors.

He also picked a fight over the Prudhoe Bay plan of development — a typically routine annual filing that defines expected drilling and production estimates — by trying to extract detailed information about natural gas sales and marketing from the three owners of the field.

Walker and Mallott clearly don’t believe they’ll be able to fool the industry twice, so they are following Begich’s lead.

Begich gave his position on Pebble to Laine Welch of Fish Radio published June 13 in which he said that the first thing he would do as governor would be to inform the Corps that state lands or right-of-way access would not be granted and that the state would not participate in the effort. That would “finally put an end to this project,” Begich said.

Walker and Mallott wrote in their letter that they will continue to “champion” resource development such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or building the gas pipeline, however, “the (Pebble Limited Partnership) has yet to demonstrate to us or the Alaska public that they have proposed a feasible and realistic project. Without, at minimum a preliminary economic assessment, but preferably a pre-feasibility study, the Corps will be unable to take a hard look at all reasonable alternatives in the draft EIS.”

Don’t look now, but the exact arguments they make against Pebble can easily be applied to ANWR and Walker’s dream of the gasline.

There is as yet no economic assessment to justify drilling in ANWR, currently in the EIS process, and opponents make the same case that there is no economic rationale for the effort.

Demonstrating a “feasible and realistic project” is also a hurdle the Alaska LNG Project, also in the EIS process, is far from clearing.

The short-circuiting of the permit process to stop projects is the favored strategy of Alaska’s many opponents to responsible development.

Advocating the Corps take just such a step against Pebble reveals the claim to be resource champions as a truly hollow one and betrays their request as the pointless pander that it is.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
07/02/2018 - 4:11pm

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