In a conference call with Alaskans today, former House Speaker and GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich promised listeners that if elected, he would dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Department of Energy, and sign up to 200 executive orders to unlock federal lands in Alaska.
These actions, he said, would help lower gas prices to $2.50 a gallon. That kind of promise might make good politics in the Lower 48. It's less clear how it plays in Alaska, where residents face pain at the pump but state coffers are bulging due to high oil prices.
The call was sponsored by the Alaska chapter of the Consumer Energy Alliance less than a week before Super Tuesday, when Alaska Republicans and Independents make their choice along with GOP voters in nine other states. With the race still a toss-up, Alaska's 27 delegates might find themselves having an outsized importance in the nomination.
It's unclear who is favored in Alaska. None of the candidates have trekked north to press Alaska flesh, though Ron Paul is expected to arrive this weekend. Mitt Romney has twice sent a surrogate, his son, to campaign in Alaska.
Gingrich did not promise an Alaska visit, but he did promise those low gas prices. In a state that depends on high oil prices to fund nearly 90 percent of the state's general revenue, low oil prices often result in state spending cuts or deficits.
The last time gas was hovering at or below $2.50 a gallon was in 2009, and oil prices were below $60 a barrel. That year, the state was facing deficits and had to yank some money out of one of its rainy-day accounts to balance the books.
Gingrich also said that signing executive orders to free up federal lands in Alaska would result in more than 1 million barrels a day of oil production. It's unclear what federal lands he could unlock with such executive orders, and if those lands have the potential to produce that kind of oil.
What is clear is that the oil companies have said that given the right state tax structure up to 90,000 additional barrels of oil a day could be produced from state lands. By some accounts, that would give Americans more than 3 million gallons of gas a day. As it is, because of Alaska's tax structure, getting that oil out of the ground simply isn't profitable enough, the oil companies say.
Last year, ConocoPhillips, the largest oil producer in Alaska, earned nearly $2 billion in profits from its oil production in the state.
Because of convoluted party rules, Alaska, a state of only 710,000, has more delegates than Maine (population 1.3 million), South Carolina (nearly 4.7 million), and more than twice as many as New Hampshire (nearly twice as populous as Alaska). Maine has 24; South Carolina has 25, and New Hampshire, despite its outsized role in the contest, only offers 12.
Contact Amanda Coyne at Amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com