Gasline Secrets as Parnell Exits
Alaskans know about airplanes and flying. No other state’s residents fly as much as we do. So we know every plane really ought to have two wings. Same with birds. There are no halibut-style birds, with two wings on one side of their bodies. I find government works best with matching wings, one on the left, one on the right.
For the last few years, we’ve been trying to fly the Spirit of Alaska with two right wings. As a result, our captain, co-pilot and the rest of the crew never really got us off the ground. They didn’t kill us, they just spent most of their time just taxiing in the wrong direction. Now, at long last, we’ve got a chance to get airborne.
Since the election, our almost-former-governor seems hell bent on a few demonstrations of failed aerodynamics. A week after he lost his office, the governor decided to close down the career training and jobs center in Muldoon. After years of profligate spending, he suddenly decided the state needed to cut expenses. And where better to start than by pulling the rug out from under people looking for work in one of the most densely populated parts of the state.
That prompted a bipartisan scramble to save the center. Here’s the kicker. Closing the jobs center wouldn’t actually have saved any money. The governor proposed to move state employees to other offices — so no salary savings. The building would still have been under lease, so that expense would have continued. Who exactly benefits from not helping people who want to work find jobs? Beats me.
Maybe this happened because despite six years in office this governor doesn’t have much experience cutting government expenses. That might explain why in this strange, new flurry to save money, the Parnell administration took milk off the shopping list but left champagne on it.
In another effort at last-minute “open and transparent” aviation, our almost-departed governor is requiring legislators and their staffs to sign a blanket confidentiality agreement before they can attend a briefing on our latest gas pipeline prospects. Seriously? Will our legislators acquiesce to this? Surely they’ll tell the governor he can kiss their . . . copies of the Alaska Constitution. “Hey, governor, I don’t sign away my voice as an elected representative of Alaskans.”
Last spring the Alaska Senate passed a bill setting up the framework for our participation in a liquefied natural gas project. At the time the governor said it would ensure “an open public process going forward.”
How does that square with confidentiality agreements?
Alaskans could be on the hook for $125 million. That’s 125,000,000 reasons to have this process out in the light of day. If you’re thinking that sounds like a lot of money? It is.
During the hearings for AGIA (the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act), confidentiality agreements had to be justified. The companies involved had to show evidence that information shared with lawmakers was proprietary and the need for privacy was essential. With the Parnell administration, hush-hush is the standard for everything: “Alaska, we’ll tell you what we think you need to know, when we think you need to know it.”
What secrets do they have? How did building a gas line become a fundamentally clandestine activity? Should regular Alaskans sit and watch for smoke of a particular color to come billowing out of a Capitol chimney?
What if a legislator goes to the secret meeting and finds out all sorts of goodies that will help his oil company employer? Will he keep the secrets from his bosses? What if a staffer thinks Alaska is getting a raw deal and slips the information to a muckraker? (By the way, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.) Who’ll enforce the $10,000 fine and a year in jail for not keeping Parnell’s gas line secrets?
So thanks, Alaskans, for trying to fly the friendly skies. I’m predicting turbulence for the next few years, but with our decision to put a wing on both sides of the plane, we may finally get the Spirit of Alaska into the air.
This article is cross-posted at the Alaska Dispatch News.