Obama choice to head Alaska pipeline project wins bipartisan praise

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 9, 2009 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has nominated Larry Persily, a former journalist and political aide, to serve as the federal coordinator for the Alaska natural gas pipeline project.

If he's confirmed by the U.S. Senate, it will mark a return to Washington for Persily, who worked on oil and gas issues for three Alaska governors and the Alaska Legislature. Persily, who worked under former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the state's Washington D.C. office, most recently worked on oil and gas matters for Alaska state Rep. Mike Hawker, the Republican co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.

Persily, the White House noted in its announcement, “is known statewide for his bipartisan credentials -- he has worked for Democrats and Republicans -- and his knowledge on oil and gas matters, particularly the history of the 40-year effort to develop a North Slope natural gas pipeline.”

“No, I’m not an engineer, I’m not a lawyer and I’m not a certified tax accountant or petroleum geologist, but I really understand the history, the players, the issues, the problems,” Persily said. “And hopefully can help move this along. A lot of work’s been done and a lot of work remains, and hopefully the federal office can work with the state and the prime industry players and continue making progress.”

Persily said that White House support for the proposal is “pretty unequivocal.”

“They like the project because of the jobs, the economic benefits to Alaska and the country, and the long-term secure supply of natural gas,” he said. “Everyone loves the project, that’s the frustrating thing. There are very few opponents to it. It’s just getting past all the problems that have hindered it for so long.”

Persily will take the place of a Drue Pearce, a Republican and former president of the Alaska Senate. Pearce was asked last month to leave her job as the head of the small agency. Her resignation takes effect Jan. 3. Although Pearce was well-liked, the Obama Administration moved to put its own person in the post.

Pearce was the first person to hold the job, which is designed to keep federal agencies working together to get the pipeline built without undue delay. Nearly two dozen federal agencies in the United States -- plus others in Canada -- must sign off on an environmental impact statement before the project can move forward.

“I appreciate the president’s commitment to the natural gas pipeline,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. “I look forward to seeing Larry continue the good work done by Drue Pearce, a great supporter of the natural gas pipeline and a wonderful advocate for Alaskan resources.”

Right now, two proposals are competing for a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48. Under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, a state law, the state is tied to the effort led by the pipeline firm TransCanada Corp. and backed by Exxon Mobil. Conoco Phillips and BP are pursuing a rival project called Denali.

Alaska state Rep. Jay Ramras, a critic of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, said he was happy to have someone in the office who he believes will have “a broader perspective on the possible.”

“I think it’s going to require some unconventional thinking to figure out how to transport and monetize Alaska’s gas,” Ramras said. “I think that Larry is going to be much more progressive in his approach. I like his mind. He has a mind of the possible.”

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat who suggested Persily to the White House for the post, called him “an excellent choice.”

“Few people can match his depth of knowledge and history on Alaska oil and gas issues,” Begich said.

That knowledge of oil and gas industry finance and the state’s regulatory process will serve him well in the role, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“More importantly, from his decades in Alaska he knows how vital it is that a gas line gets built so the state can quickly get its gas to market for the benefit of current and future Alaskans,” she said.

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