As state officials described what's known about Cook Inlet gas reserves and exploration to the Senate Resources Committee on Monday, there was one senator at the hearing with particular knowledge and concern about the situation.
"We've got a supply issue and the public needs to understand it," freshman Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, told Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan.
For the public in Southcentral Alaska, the supply issue could mean that keeping their houses warm next year, or the year after, will require them to burn some natural gas from a place other than Cook Inlet.
For Micciche, it could mean the plant at which he's superintendent -- the Conoco Phillips liquefied natural gas plant in Kenai -- never exports gas again. The plant, the first of its kind in the United States, relies on a surplus of Alaska gas for shipment to Asia.
"My only request," he told Sullivan, "is that the department continues to look for a parallel path," he said, referring to proposals for a gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Southcentral region.
Alaska's part-time Legislature has always had members with "day jobs" that intersect with the public's business -- attorneys who participate in legislative debates on civil lawsuit reform, educators who vote on school issues, businessmen or labor officials involved in legislation on worker's compensation, minimum wage or collective bargaining.
But with billion-dollar oil and gas issues dominating the Legislature this year as they have in the recent past, a legislator whose paycheck and stock plan come from one of the state's big producers can find himself drawing extra scrutiny.
"My vow to serve honorably will be easy to track," Micciche said Tuesday in an interview in his Capitol office, where he discussed his employment and his legislative roles in the new, overwhelmingly Republican Senate. "Give me the chance to be the best I can be here."
Micciche is not shying away from energy issues. He's a member of the Senate Resource Committee and he took positions on the two new Senate committees involving oil and gas, including vice chairman of the special committee taking the first look at the governor's oil-tax bill.
"I'm proud of the industry's place in our state and the industry's place in my community," Micciche said. "I know a little bit about LNG and I know a lot about natural-gas processing, and I think it's an advantage for the people of Alaska."
Micciche said he took an unpaid leave of absence for the three months the Legislature is in session, leaving about a dozen other employees to share his duties at the plant and over safety at other Conoco Phillips facilities in Cook Inlet. With the winter season, the plant isn't operating and hasn't exported gas since September, he said. He doesn't know what will happen when Alaskans are no longer using Cook Inlet gas to stave off the winter's cold and there might be extra to send abroad.
"I'm not here representing Conoco Phillips -- I don't know what the company's decisions are and whether or not the facility will operate in the future," he said.
In his financial disclosure, he said his salary was in the range of $100,000 to $200,000 and that he owned Conoco Phillips stock but wasn't required to be more exact.
Micciche was helped by oil-industry contributions in his bid to oust incumbent Tom Wagoner in the Republican primary. Micciche won easily and faced no opposition in the general election.
District O residents knew who they were voting for, he said. He had been Soldotna mayor since 2008 and has worked for Phillips Petroleum since 1986, starting as a roustabout.
Micciche said he doesn't believe he has a conflict of interest under the Legislative Ethics Act. He cited a 2008 ethics committee opinion sought by then-Rep. Kevin Meyer, now a Senator representing the Anchorage Hillside, who also works for Conoco Phillips.
The advisory opinion cleared Meyer, a Republican, to vote on bills or take other legislative action even when the oil industry -- and specifically Conoco Phillips -- was concerned. As a facility support coordinator who reviewed tenant contracts, ensured safe handling of some hazardous chemicals and disposed of Conoco Phillips property, he didn't have the kind of ownership interest in the company that could constitute a legal conflict, the committee said.
But it also told Meyer that the ethics act's founding principles require conduct that does not create "the appearance of impropriety" and that demand "high moral and ethical standards among public servants in the legislative branch of government."
Micciche said that when he looked at the Meyer ruling, "I fit the bill exactly."
"I don't negotiate, I'm not in the commercial business, I have nothing to do with the things that would conflict," he said. "I would be as much in conflict as one of the roustabouts or an operator at Tesoro or a person that delivers material to an oil and gas facility."
At a news briefing Tuesday morning by members of the Republican Senate majority, Micciche said his position wasn't unusual in a citizen legislature.
"They've also had representatives that are attorneys for unions that sit on (the) Labor and Commerce (Committee)," he said. Later, in the interview, he said he was referring to Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. But he then corrected himself and said he wasn't sure if Wielechowski ever served on Labor and Commerce.
Wielechowski, associate general counsel for the IBEW -- the electrical workers union -- said he's turned down leadership attempts to put him on Labor and Commerce, including making him chairman.
"I would love to serve on that committee, to be honest," said Wielechowski, who was first elected in 2006. "I just think it's inappropriate. It raises the appearance of impropriety. I work for the labor union. Sitting on the labor committee, it just didn't feel right to me."
Note: An early version of this story misspelled Sen. Peter Micciche's last name.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER