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Parnell to National Press Club: Let Alaska be the nation's oil supply

Patti Epler

Gov. Sean Parnell took his pitch for increased oil development in Alaska to a national audience on Friday.

The governor spoke to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., telling those gathered for the lunch speech what he's been saying here at home for months: the federal government needs to quit blocking oil and gas development off Alaska's coast, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in other areas to help offset the country's dependence on foreign oil.

"Alaska's oil patch is not dry, far from it," Parnell said, adding that 11 percent of national oil production comes from Alaska.

Much more could be available, he contends, if only the federal government would cease its "openly hostile" policies toward Alaska. He believes development in the Arctic is "blocked by misguided federal policy, much of it aided by misinformation and political agendas."

Parnell argued that the U.S. Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency are "driving America's foreign policy." He talked about Interior's recent announcement to review more than 80 million acres of federal land in Alaska for "wild lands" status.

And he criticized the Obama administration for not issuing an air quality permit to Shell Oil Co. for work in the Beaufort Sea this summer. He said the federal inaction resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars for the U.S. economy, although the figures he cited came from a report paid for by Shell that was released Thursday.

What he didn't mention in his speech, however, is that permits, lease sales and other aspects of oil development have mainly been blocked due to legal action, much of it brought by conservation and Native organizations. The federal government has in most cases tried to proceed with oil development only to find itself in court arguing against its decisions. For instance, the air permit needed by Shell was issued by EPA then overturned as a result of lawsuits filed by opponents of drilling.

Shell Alaska officials have said several times they believe they are working well with most permitting agencies. But Parnell has made it a signature of his administration to push back against the federal government, including filing lawsuits to try to force a different outcome for Alaska.

On Friday, he continued to suggest that the Obama administration has put a moratorium on offshore Arctic development even though federal officials have consistently said there is no moratorium. During the gubernatorial campaign last fall, Parnell filed a lawsuit to overturn what he still contended was a moratorium that got Alaska tangled up with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill last spring. That case cost more than $36,000, according to the state Department of Law, before a federal judge dismissed it, saying there was no moratorium, just as federal officials had insisted all along.

"The federal government won't call it a moratorium but if it looks like a moratorium and walks like a moratorium, maybe it is," he told the press club audience Friday.

Parnell ticked off a list of Alaska areas that could be developed -- offshore, ANWR, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, among them. Instead, he said, "these all languish under this federal no new wells policy."

Parnell fielded a few questions from reporters at the end of his speech. They wanted to know about the trans-Alaska pipeline and the proposed natural gas pipeline, among other things.

The last questioner brought up a different subject. He wondered whether Parnell would support his predecessor, former Gov. Sarah Palin, if she ran for president in 2012.

The governor smiled a bit. "You know, you're going to get me in ethical trouble. Because of my state I can't speak to political races," he said. "I can certainly tell you that I think Governor Palin is qualified to serve and could do that if she chooses. But for me to make any kind of political statement, I am ethically obligated not to."