JUNEAU — Two Republican lawmakers are questioning whether the removal of three board members from an organization expected to play a key role in Alaska natural gas pipeline projects will delay the group’s work.
Reps. Mike Chenault and Mike Hawker led legislative efforts to create the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. In a release Wednesday, they said they were concerned that Gov. Bill Walker’s shake-up of the board — which included instructing two state commissioners on the panel not to sign confidentiality agreements — could delay the group’s efforts.
“It’s going to be hard to replace the 60 years of knowledge that these three board members bring, and in particular, the expertise of Dick Rabinow, who is the only board member to have actual gas line construction experience under his belt,” Chenault, R-Nikiski, and the Alaska House speaker, said.
Walker said he doesn’t foresee a disruption.
Late Tuesday, Walker’s office announced that Walker had removed three of the board’s five public members: Rabinow, Drue Pearce and Al Bolea. All five members were appointed by Walker’s predecessor, Republican Sean Parnell.
Walker told The Associated Press he wants Alaskans on the board, as well as greater geographic representation. He also said he sees this as a lay board, not a professional board, noting the gas line group, known as AGDC, has professional staff and advisers.
Walker plans to fill the vacancies within a month. Those picks will be subject to legislative confirmation.
Rabinow, a former president of ExxonMobil Pipeline Co., is from Texas. Lawmakers passed legislation last year in response to his appointment, expressly allowing for out-of-state residents to serve on the board. Supporters of the law that established AGDC said it was an oversight not to make that allowance explicit in the initial law and said they wanted the best people serving. Critics said Alaskans should serve on Alaska boards, a sentiment Walker shares.
Pearce, a former state lawmaker and federal coordinator for Alaska gas pipeline projects, is from Anchorage. Bolea, a former oil company executive, is from Big Lake.
The remaining public members are former state attorney general John Burns, of Fairbanks, and Dave Cruz, of Palmer, who has an oil field services and construction support company. The state labor and commerce commissioners also serve.
Walker ordered the commissioners not to sign confidentiality agreements before an executive session planned for an AGDC board meeting Thursday. Walker said a confidentiality agreement, on top of an executive session closed to the public, seemed to be going “a bit far.”
“My concern is that at some point you start to lose the public trust in the process,” he said. “The public has to have a high level of comfort and trust in what’s going on.”
In a statement, Burns praised the contributions of Rabinow, Pearce and Bolea. He said while AGDC has a responsibility to protect commercially sensitive information, as a public corporation it “has an equally important obligation to conduct the public’s business openly and transparently.”
In an interview Wednesday, Bolea said it is normal for a new governor to surround himself with people he believes will support his plans.
“I think once the governor gets his hands around this huge project and sees all the good work that was done that he’s going to make all the right decisions,” Bolea said. “I would encourage everyone to view this as just normal, that this isn’t a sign of some massive change. It’s just a new person in a huge job, the executive of a huge state, getting things lined up the way he wants them.”
Rabinow said he respected Walker’s decision and enjoyed serving on the board.
AGDC has been involved in pursuit of two gas line projects: a smaller line that would serve Alaskans and a major liquefied natural gas project that also involves BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and TransCanada Corp.
Walker recently halted new spending on the smaller line, along with several other big-ticket projects, as the state grapples with projected multibillion-dollar budget deficits and the administration decides how or whether to proceed with those projects.
As part of the liquefied natural gas project, Walker said he has authorized deputy Natural Resources commissioner Marty Rutherford, who will be involved in project negotiations, to sign necessary confidentiality agreements as part of that effort. He said he doesn’t want to slow the project down in any way.
The decision to not have commissioners on the AGDC board sign confidentiality agreements could be revisited if a failure to sign would somehow be detrimental, he said.