WASHINGTON — Alaska has always had a unique relationship with the federal government, but in recent weeks, Gov. Sean Parnell has taken the fist-shaking at Washington to a new level.
In an interview while he was in Washington this week, Parnell said he has seen growing evidence of what he called the federal government under the Obama administration attempting "to over-regulate and overreach, and their attempt to determine our destiny as a state."
Based on what he's seen since assuming the job of governor last July from Sarah Palin, Parnell said he has decided on an aggressive approach to what he believes is burdensome federal government involvement in Alaska, particularly in the area of resource development.
"I just see more of it happening," Parnell said. "Every week it seems like there is some new federal regulatory move that is detrimental to Alaskans' interest. My focus has been the regulatory agencies, primarily the EPA and Interior. We see added layers of bureaucracy when it comes to trying to develop our resources and create the jobs that are needed."
In recent weeks, Parnell's administration has joined U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a fellow Republican, in opposing a move by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases. He announced plans to fight the scope of the federal Endangered Species Act, including opposing the size of the federally designated "critical habitat" for polar bears and intervening in a lawsuit that seeks to place ribbon seals on the endangered species list.
Parnell also has been considering intervening in lawsuits by environmental groups that have held up oil and gas development, including offshore. He's also made a case to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for allowing offshore development to move forward in Alaska at an aggressive clip.
"It's me standing up for Alaskans' interests and wanting to make sure that we will have an economy that will grow in the future. Frankly, most of our economic wealth is going to grow from the national resources, from the land and the sea. When the agencies attempt to regulate air, land and sea and add another layer of regulation over what's there, that diminishes job opportunities for Alaskans."
Parnell also announced on Dec. 31 that he would join other Republican governors in asking their attorneys general to examine the details of the health care legislation the Senate passed on Christmas Eve. Parnell said he opposes mandating the purchase of health insurance, and said he is concerned in particular about a deal landed by Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat who announced he would vote for the health care package after his home state was exempted from the cost of expanding Medicaid.
On his trip, Parnell visited the vice chief of staff of the Air Force at the Pentagon, met with the ambassador to Finland and was briefed by his Washington staff. He also made an appearance on the cable business channel, CNBC.
Parnell said he paid for his visit to the nation's capital out of his campaign account, because he also held a fundraiser for his 2010 election campaign at Crowell Moring, a law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., and Anchorage.
COURTING THE MILITARY
While Parnell might have ramped up his criticism of the federal government's role in Alaska affairs, he was diplomatic in one area: the Pentagon. The main thrust of his trip was to maintain the state's cordial relationship with the military, Parnell said. To that end, he visited with Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Carrol H. "Howie" Chandler, who before moving to the Pentagon, headed the Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region at Elmendorf Air Force Base.
Parnell said his visit with Chandler was not motivated by any particular threat by the Pentagon to close military bases or transfer units out of Alaska. Rather, Parnell said, it was prompted more by some of the anxiety he heard on a recent visit to Fairbanks and North Pole. Some Interior residents he spoke with remain concerned about the military's future role in Alaska, Parnell said.
Mostly, Parnell said, he wanted to establish a rapport with Chandler so the Air Force general is aware he is "very much interested in those decisions and their impact on Alaskans." He did get an assurance from the general that the state's appreciation for the military and veterans has been noted -- and is appreciated.
"I want to make sure that the military's mission is maintained in Alaska and he gave me those assurances," Parnell said. "I'm also obviously looking for opportunities with our congressional delegation to expand the military's mission in Alaska. We love the people of the military and they also are a vital economic engine to many Alaskan homes and businesses."