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Former legislator Beth Kerttula named White House director of ocean policy

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska's Beth Kerttula, who left the Legislature earlier this year for a Stanford fellowship in ocean policy, has been tapped to become the new ocean policy director for the Obama White House.

The Palmer native represented Juneau in the House of Representatives for 15 years, the last seven as leader of the Democratic minority. She left for Stanford University, her alma mater, in January to serve as a visiting fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions.

News of Kerttula's White House position came from Stanford this week.

"Beth will bring her wisdom, boundless energy and sense of humor to her federal post," said Meg Caldwell, executive director of the Center for Ocean Solutions, in an email to staff announcing Kerttula's departure.

Her new job will be as director of the National Ocean Council, Caldwell said.

That group, made up of top federal officials from relevant agencies, is responsible for implementing the president's national stewardship policy for oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes. It works to involve coastal communities in issues involving marine planning, responding to ocean acidification, resource development and more.

Reached in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Kerttula referred questions about her new job to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which declined public comment.

Prior to her legislative service, Kerttula was an assistant attorney general and worked with the coastal zone management program, which gives local communities input in federal coastal actions. The program was rolled back during the administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski and ended under Gov. Sean Parnell.

Parnell spokesperson Sharon Leighow said the governor was in Fairbanks today, and she did not know if he was aware of Kerttula's new position.

Former Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho called the appointment "very exciting." Botelho worked with Kerttula on coastal zone issues when he headed the Department of Law.

"I think she's a perfect fit -- a combination of her experience with coastal management and her role as an elected official who understands the nature of politics," Botelho said.

At Stanford, Kerttula helped bring together Center for Ocean Solutions experts and researchers while delivering their information to legislators and policymakers, Caldwell said. She expects that to continue.

"Engaging the broader research community will be increasingly needed as the National Ocean Policy is implemented, and Beth will be able to rely on a network of scholars and researchers from diverse fields to inform the nation's ocean policy work," Caldwell's email said.

In Alaska, Kerttula supported President Barack Obama's candidacy, leading to tension between her and then-Gov. Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential nominee of Obama's opponent, Sen. John McCain. Kerttula and Palin had previously worked together on oil tax policy and similar issues.

But they had differing views on issues such as oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Kerttula was one of the few political leaders, and possibly one of the few Alaskans, to oppose oil drilling there.

Reach Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com.


By PAT FORGEY
pat@alaskadispatch.com