6-28-13 Do frivolous claims take advantage of BP's good faith Gulf efforts and increase consumer costs?
|TODAY, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2231, the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, with a bipartisan vote of 235-186. This legislation, sponsored by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, would expand OCS energy production in order to create new American jobs, lower energy prices, grow our economy, and strengthen America’s national security.|
See Katie Bender's RDC Report on one of our favorite websites: Alaskanomics.com!
This comment, from an Alaska small business owner, Scott Thorson (NGP Photo), deals with other factors affecting Alaska's ability to compete for investment.
We agree with Scott on his observations.
The only reason we didn't enumerate them in yesterday's column--along with Alaska's other competitive disadvantages--was that these pages for a decade have been replete with such references.
We wish to thank Scott for identifying them and once again bringing them to the attention of fellow readers. -dh
I get your e-mail updates, and although not 100% of the time, more times than not I click to your site to read. The write up you did regarding the RDC Annual Meeting was really good. I have only a couple of things I would like to add for your consideration.
First, you are 100% correct, Alaska is ... dependent on the oil & gas business. Our entire economy (both private sector & government sector) depends on a healthy and growing oil & gas industry. Unless people in Alaska want to pay extremely high taxes this dependence will have to continue....
Logically, the numbers don’t add up. Alaskans can’t afford the government they have without oil & gas under any scenario I can conjure up. Without a viable economy, hardly anyone will have jobs, except of course for government employees ....
The real story is that, at least in my opinion, even under the new tax rates, Alaska is still at a HUGE competitive disadvantage.
As you know, we are a long way from the market, so transportation is very expensive for our oil.
Second, the cost of operating in the Arctic is far higher than in other oil provinces in North America.
Third, federal oversight is another huge cost that many other locations do not have to deal with at the level we have to.
All these elements add to the cost of getting our oil to the refinery and ultimately to the market....
The bean counters are a key element in making the decisions about where investments will be made. They really don’t care how cool we Alaskans are and how good our quality of life is here. To them it is where they can get the best return on a dollar they invest.
The total cost to produce a barrel of oil in Alaska is far higher (even with our new tax rates) than it is anywhere else in North America, as it is when compared to most of the places they produce in the world.
The new tax rates are about the best we could expect politically, in the real world, but in my view it is not enough to create a real oil boom such as the one I have seen in North Dakota and Texas.
Keep up the good work ....
As the Alaska Resource Development Council meets in Anchorage, many are asking: “Why won’t the federal government allow Alaskans to tap these prodigious resources and keep Alaska’s economy growing?”
Chairman Hastings: Republican Plan Unlocks American Energy Resources, Creates American Jobs
|58% Expect Obama's New EPA Regulations to Increase Energy Costs.|
Alaska Dispatch by Alex DeMarban.
Unemployment in Anchorage has dropped to one of the lowest levels in years, thanks in large part to a "mini-boom" in Cook Inlet and steady growth in other key areas, according to an official with the Anchorage Economic Development Corp (AEDC).
Unemployment in Anchorage fell in May to the "crazy low" figure of 4.7 percent -- the lowest in five years, according to Bill Popp (NGP Photo), the group's president. ... "We are the envy of much of the nation," Popp said of Anchorage. ... The most noticeable growth came in the oil and gas industry, which added 460 jobs through May to grow 15 percent. ... "It's a combination of several factors aligning at same time," Popp said. "Cook Inlet is taking off in ways we haven't seen in decades. The rest of the growth in Anchorage employment (in the oil and gas sector) stems from North Slope development," including Exxon Mobil Corp.'s Point Thomson gas-cycling project east of the Prudhoe Bay oil field.
Pay Attention to RDC
Our Reaction To Yesterday's Annual Meeting of the Resource Development Council for Alaska (RDC).
Lest readers think, "Oh, the RDC is just another business organization", we would say: "Pay attention: this group represents the core of Alaska's economy!" The group's membership includes oil & gas, mining, airline, trucking, education, communications, food, forestry, beverage, fishing, retail, hospitality, tourism, Alaska Native enterprises and a variety of other industries. Together, these are the heart beat of Alaska's present and future economies.
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We'll return to the RDC later in this commentary but turn our attention now to the AEDC story (right). In it, we see that Anchorage's economy is doing wonderfully and seems 'healthy'. This is due partly to earlier state legislation which provided oil & gas exploration and production incentives in the populous, Cook Inlet Region of Alaska.
However, all humans know that the slip from 'healthy' to 'sick' can occur without warning, very quickly. And this can happen to cities and states just as it can happen to people.
Alaska's overall economy may seem healthy today. But this is not a diversified, sustainable powerhouse at the moment--as those with good jobs and low debt might be tempted to think.
Alaska's economy is actually fragile
This is because it leans precariously on the health of one industry: petroleum. And the political leaders of Alaska over the years have assured that the state is almost totally dependent on the health of the petroleum industry while illogically attacking the health of that industry. The attacks, most recently initiated during Governor Sarah Palin's (NGP Photo) administration, emerged through enactment of predatory, high taxes. In other words, politicians have discouraged the industry investments that support the lifestyles, lives and futures of all Alaskans.
Politicians have also created one of the biggest entitlement / welfare economies in the nation (i.e. big government).
Alaska's government is about 90% dependent on the remaining oil moving down the TransAlaska Pipeline System (TAPS) and the overall economy is more than 50% dependent on this oil production. Today, the TAPS dipstick is approaching the 3/4 empty mark. (Note: "Dipstick" term: credit to Tom Barratt.)
Federal politicians have further restricted Alaska's economic potential by creating gauntlents of regulatory obsticles blocking natural resource development, as we have documented ad nauseum in Northern Gas Pipelines over the years. The federal assault on Alaska also includes impeding activity on state, Native and other private lands--as well as federal land.
So we have a situation wherein the state government costs are steadily growing as the oil production to support government costs is steadily shrinking. Don't forget that local governments and the private economy are similarly dependent on the diminishing economic nourishment the TAPS umbilical cord is able to provide.
A few months ago, the Alaska legislature began to view this unsustainable situation so seriously that they adopted a tax reform designed to encourage more oil and gas investments. The conservative side of the aisle said, "Lower taxes will increase investment and production." The liberal side of the aisle said, "Lower tax revenue is not fair to Alaskans."
After the tax reform act passed, Governor Sean Parnell (NGP Photo) signed it.
Soon after, liberal coalitions began promoting a voters' referendum to repeal the tax reform act. We note that the effort is headed by Pat Lavin, "...who works on climate change and energy issues in the Anchorage, Alaska office of the National Wildlife Federation". Taxing the oil industry out of Alaska (if not the Nation) would obviously be quite an attractive vision for the several dozen enviro-extremist groups that have established offices throughout Alaska. A number of free-market related organizations are opposing repeal of tax reform.
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Yesterday, we witnessed two presentations relevant to the issue of Alaska's economic future--at the RDC annual meeting in Anchorage. RDC presented the CEOs of a large ANS oil and gas producer and of a large, national consumer energy organization to a room filled with a thousand interested citizens, the Governor, Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives and a huge assortment of other Alaska business and governmental decision makers.
BP Exploration (Alaska), Inc. President Janet Weiss (NGP Photo), reported that tax reform had created a more attractive investment climate. She said that reforming oil taxes improved the chances for an Alaska LNG (i.e. liquefied natural gas) export project since oil production is critical to gas production. She then enumerated projects planned and occurring as a result of tax reform efforts. (View Weiss' entire presentation here.)
David Holt (NGP Photo), Consumer Energy Alliance's president (NGP Photo), discussed his theme that the path to American energy independence (i.e. possible by 2030) flows through Alaska. He demonstrated why the dramatic increase of domestic shale production does not diminish Alaska's potential. He also noted the importance of a federal government that viewed the natural resource industry more as a partner than an adversary. (View Holt's slides here and the video here.)
RDC President Phil Cochrane (NGP Photo) thanked Governor Sean Parnell, and a number of state legislators attending, for their support of tax reform legislation. He urged members to remain vigilant and involved in energy issues at both the state and federal levels.
Prior to the noon presentation, both keynote speakers met with Cochrane and the RDC board to answer their questions and, earlier, Holt provided a briefing on state and national consumer energy issues to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska at a scheduled public meeting.
A crowd like that, listening to leaders like that, attended by decision makers like that, gathered in support of issues like that ... all attests to the value of all citizens paying close attention to RDC. After all, what is said in such meetings and done as a result is designed to further our way of life by those with the resources to do it.
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(ENDNOTE: For citizens who do, "pay attention to the RDC", we at Northern Gas Pipelines will join you in supporting continuing tax/regulatory reform and improvement of Alaska's investment climate.
Always remember that accuracy is our goal and that we always seek your comments, additions or corrections.
We will support your efforts to thwart federal government overreach that seeks, along with its environmentally extreme allies, to kill Alaska's economy.
We want nothing extreme ourselves: we just advocate for a free market, reasonable policies, honesty, freedom itself.
We advocate that Alaska become a place where "A deal is a deal"; where "need" takes priority over "greed"; where the rule of law is unchallenged by political agendas.
We also stand behind citizens from whom great courage will be required to rise and tell an imperial, intimidating, aggressive and intolerant federal government, "You must return to your proper constitutional role."
We believe the greatest courage will come from Federal regulatory and law enforcement employees who see the waste, abuse and oppression occuring around them, and who then step forward to right the wrong. For those who so sacrifice, we shall reserve special respect, support and admiration.)
The Hill, OpEd by Congressman Doc Hastings (NGP Photo). It’s time to take action to create more than 1 million new American jobs and generate $1.5 billion in new revenue. This would significantly boost our economy and help to further remove us from the grip of foreign oil. The president wants to continue to keep our offshore energy resources locked up, but this week, the House will take significant action to set it free. We owe it to the American people to remove the barriers that block access to our resources and to take the steps necessary to help put us on a path toward greater energy security.
Below is more fallout from our story yesterday on President Obama's circumvention of Congressional jurisdiction in creating a new roadblock to economic recovery. -dh
Consumer Energy Alliance (i.e. which we have consistently supported), gives the most thorough analysis we have been able to find--HERE. While the analysis lists 'potentially good' aspects of Obama's climate change statement, the majority of the analysis leads a reader to conclude that Obama's initiative bodes very badly for energy consumers, the economy and/or provides a tremendous amount of uncertainty. Today, in Anchorage, Consumer Energy Alliance President David Holt (NGP Photo) will brief the Regulatory Commission of Alaska on his organization's consumer mission and will be a Keynote speaker at the Resource Development Council for Alaska's Annual Meeting. We hope to provide his presentation in tomorrow's report. -dh
American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle released the following statement in response to comments by President Barack Obama regarding the Keystone XL pipeline during his speech today on new regulations and other administrative actions affecting America's energy future:
"Make no mistake, the President has killed the Keystone XL pipeline today. And while he can continue to pretend to have it both ways, his 'no increased emissions' standard would kill any energy project that requires a federal sign off, including renewables. The chosen ones need not worry, however, since his hypocrisy is limited to hydrocarbons. Fortunately, the path the President has chosen to pursue his agenda -- fiat and executive action -- will only require another president to undo it with the stroke of a pen. The only question is what harm the American economy will endure while we wait for another occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
Wall Street Journal. The Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents small and midsize oil and gas producers, said in a statement that the speech was contradictory. "The president accepts the many benefits of increased use of natural gas such as jobs, cleaner air and less reliance on foreign energy," said IPAA president Barry Russell in the statement. "Yet at the same time his continued proposal to increase taxes on the industry will strip away capital that could decrease American natural gas and oil production" by up to 25%, he said.
Barrasso: Americans Can't Afford Obama's National Energy Tax - Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) spoke about how Americans cannot afford President Obama's national energy tax. Senator Barrasso also pointed out that the President's new plan completely contradicts Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy's pledge to the Senate that the agency is not working on developing regulations for existing power plants.
Jun 25, 2013 -- Congressional Documents and Publications/ContentWorks
Supreme Court To Take Up Obama's Cross-State Pollution Rule - The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it would review a lower court's decision last year about an Obama administration air-pollution regulation that limited emissions between neighboring states.
Jun 25 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Brian Dowling The Hartford Courant
EPA brings King Coal to a crawl - Continued scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency over the King Coal Highway corridor could have adverse ramifications on future coal synergy agreements, highway supporters said Monday.
Jun 25 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Charles Owens Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va.
Huffpost Alberta. Hold on to your hats, Alberta, the Kennedy stampede is headed for the oil sands as a rich kid with few skills and nothing else to do heads north to criticize the very wealth production that has made North America great.
This video won't thrill our NGP readers but it is enlightening. -dh
Wilderness Society Doesn't Support Federal Cleanup Of Federal Drilling Messes In Alaska - New Interior Secretary Opposes Responsible Nearby Exploration. (NGP headline)
Our Comment: In recent Congressional testimony, Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Jewell proclaimed that both the President and she were opposed to oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) -- without explaining why.
Ironically, Wilderness Society spokeswoman, Lois Epstein (NGP Photo), in Anchorage defended DOI's Bureau of Land Management for not cleaning up earlier federal government drilling messes (AOGCC Photo, 7-28-10, NPR-A Knifeblade #1) in the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska because, as she put it, "it’s extremely expensive to do so in the National Petroleum Reserve. It’s very remote, hard to get equipment there, and frankly there aren’t many people ...who are actually at risk....”
We wonder what Epstein and DOI would have said had the well mess been left by an oil company (i.e. companies require their truck drivers on the Alaska North Slope to place 'aprons' under the engine block to be sure and catch the escape of even one drop of oil. The hypocrisy is pungent.)
So, Alaska is too remote to require the Feds to timely clean up their own mess in NPR-A, too fragile to allow lawful oil and gas exploration in the best areas, but not too remote to require a continuing embargo on exploration in the nearby ANWR.
The inconsistent, anti-job creating position on natural resource issues is the most transparent reality of this administration.
While it would be difficult to find a soul without hypocrisy in some form, hypocrisy that invades national economic and security policy is particularly damaging to masses of constituencies and to the future of families and countries.
The Congress made the Arctic National Wildlife "Range" into a "Refuge" in 1980, rendering millions of acres off limits to natural resource development while preserving a small sliver for oil and gas exploration. The Obama Administration in a time of challenging economic recovery, is within sight of making America energy independent and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs yet opposes oil and gas development where Congress has intended it.
Likewise, if Oil Sands production in Alberta does not go to America via TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline, it will likely go abroad--taking hundreds of thousands of potential North American jobs with it. Professional environmental activists like Kennedy oppose the very wealth producing oil, gas and mining industries that made America and Canada great, while jetting to exotic locations and living carbon-luxurious lifestyles. Ironically, the hypocritical behavior of such citizens does not penetrate their own veils of wealth but cripples the promise and potential of the broad mass of citizens they hypocritically and meanly pretend to represent. -dh
Today's Energy Commentary from American Energy Alliance:
If complete control of a market is called a monopoly, what do you call mandated control of a market...? The Renewable Fuel Standard. PoliticoPro (6/11/13) reports: Sen. Tom Coburn used the nomination hearing for Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs nominee Howard Shelanski to rip into EPA’s renewable fuels standard…“We’re going to see ... two refineries in Oklahoma close within a year, year-and-half, because they cannot afford to buy the renewable fuel credits. So, we got a regulation out there that’s actually going to kill our ability to provide gasoline to the country even with an ethanol blend,” Coburn said at the hearing today… “It would take one adjustment to that regulation and all that’d go away and it won’t make any difference in the long-term in terms of our environmental consequences because we’re still going to have ethanol blended into our fuel,” he said, before asking Shelanski whether he had “any thoughts about that.”
On this issue, Jim Lankford is very solid. President Bush was not. That is all. NewsOK (6/12/13) reports: “FEDERAL renewable fuel mandates passed in 2005 and 2007 could create significant economic hardship, reducing citizens’ take-home pay without offsetting benefit… A recent U.S. House subcommittee hearing chaired by Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, made clear the abundant flaws of the mandate. The Renewable Fuel Standard requires that 35 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent biofuels and 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel be refined by 2022. However, those mandates were imposed when officials assumed that U.S. fuel consumption would continue increasing and that domestic oil production would account for a declining share of supply. Both assumptions were wrong.”
Just in case you were wondering what the reworked cost of carbon means. Bloomberg (6/12/13) reports: “And if Obama approves the pipeline, the higher carbon-cost estimate could to be a part of any lawsuit challenging the decision, according to Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity... ‘It won’t be a game changer, but it would help’ in any legal challenge, he said. The increase in the estimate is being cheered by environmentalists as one small sign that President Barack Obama is going to make good on a pledge from his inaugural address to tackle global warming in the face of opposition from Republicans in Congress.”
Don't miss it!! Resources for the Future (6/13) reports: “This seminar is part of “Considering a Carbon Tax,” a research initiative in RFF’s Center for Climate and Electricity Policy… RFF invites you to learn more about these modeling results in a special half-day seminar featuring distinguished researchers and experts. In the first session, RFF researchers Rob Williams, Richard Morgenstern, Jared Carbone, and Dallas Burtraw will share model results and describe carbon tax impacts across a range of revenue recycling scenarios. In the second session, experts from the research and policy communities (see below) will comment on the economics and the politics of the model’s results.”
U.S. oil production soars (except on federal lands). IER (6/10/13) reports: “The Energy Information Administration (EIA) just released its report, Sales of Fossil Fuels Produced on Federal and Indian Lands, FY 2003 Through FY 2012.[i] This report shows that total fossil fuel production on federal lands is at a ten year low, natural gas production on federal lands is also at a ten year low, and oil production on federal land fell in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 ending two years of increase in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. Specifically the new EIA report shows:”
We agree. The federal government should allow for more exploration of our deep seas. Washington Examiner (6/11/13) reports: “Cameron, who says he has ‘always had an affinity for the ocean,’ commissioned the manned (or "personed," as Cameron pointedly noted, in deference to the many female oceanographers) submersible, which took seven years to build, and piloted it more than 35,000 feet below the ocean's surface… ‘Sending a piloted vehicle down gets a lot more media and public attention,’ Cameron said at a Capitol Hill briefing. ‘I don't have a degree in any of the sciences or in engineering, but I didn't have a degree in filmmaking either, and that didn't stop me.’… He told congressional staff members that he does not have a "specific call to action" on policy, but that it "boils down to funding" deep sea exploration. He and Dr. Susan Avery, director of Woods Hole, compared exploring the deeper ocean to exploring space -- but said the former has been neglected in comparison.”
|For those aspiring to direct activities of an instate gas pipeline, here is a link to follow: The State of Alaska, Office of the Governor seeks qualified individuals to serve on the inaugural governing board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, a state corporation responsible for advancing a large-scale natural gas pipeline project. -dh|
When A New DOI Acting Assistant Secretary Came To Alaska To "Listen"
(For background. In early September 2010 Alaska experienced the second "listening session" during the course of the Deepwater Horizon investigation.)
Sample of testimony provided by supporters of Alaska OCS oil and gas activity.
My name is Mary Ann Pease (NGP Photo).
I am a business owner with a focus on oil, gas and energy consulting.
Thank you for holding the listening session.
We all want to make sure that our natural resources are developed in a safe, reliable and economically feasible manner.
The Arctic represents a vast potential source of both resources and opportunity. Exploration and development in the arctic afford a significant remedy for advancing energy independence. It also will present new and expanded opportunities for other industries such as fishing and shipping. The administration needs to work to advance the ability of Americans to use arctic resources and not stifle, frustrate and thwart development opportunities.
Obviously there are challenges to working in an arctic environment. But, those can be addressed with a rational and considered permitting process. What is not needed is some kind of moratorium on use of the arctic while innumerable studies are conducted. Governmental agencies love to do studies, because it allows them to forego the decisional process, provides a shield to support those opposed to development, and puts off any actual substantive work to advance a project. Agency objectives should be to determine how to prudently develop resources, not stifle a defined process with one study after another.
Set out what the requirements are for specific development activities. Then adhere to the defined process. There may be legal and other challenges, but the agency has to support and defend the process it has devised. Otherwise there is no certainty, no structure, and no way to advance a project. And the agency needs to actually do its work. Plans that are submitted have to be reviewed and proper commentary provided. It does no good to discover after a problem develops that the plan addressed species that only live thousands of miles from the project area. Industry and applicants have to meet the defined permitting standard, but the governmental agencies have to objectively and thoroughly review submittals and provide appropriate comments and directives.
Arctic development has been totally frustrated by a labyrinth and undefined permitting process. Energy resources from the arctic are key to energy independence for the US and increasing employment opportunities in an area with chronic unemployment. Define the permitting and approval process with realistic and fair conditions to protect the environment and traditional uses of the arctic. The arctic is remote, but it isn't isolated, and its resources are an integral component to satisfy increasing domestic demand.
The need for a diverse market basket of energy sources is more critical now than ever. Energy Consumers need the optionality of affordable energy to continue economic prosperity.
The villages and communities here in Alaska are constantly hurt by the high cost of energy and greatly rely upon the revenues that come from oil and gas development in our State for their existence.
Alaska has the most stringent regulatory and permitting requirements in the world. We can responsibly develop our resources here in Alaska. The OCS standards that your agency and others may be reviewing need to be durable and cannot cause delay, excessive cost and should not stall development.
Our objective and focus should be on sustainable development not on shutting down business opportunity, especially in the OCS. There should definitely be additional lease sales in the OCS and we should work together to ensure the successful lease sales and appropriate level of regulation over the safety and environment.
Shell and the other Producers here in the State are good Stewards of the land and resources. There are also numerous agencies and regulators ensuring that development occurs in an environmentally safe manner. Standards and environmental safeguards can always be improved upon and our focus should be on these improvements and not on drilling curtailment as some anti-development agencies would like to achieve!
Thank you for your time today!
The Interior Department's top oil leasing offical is in Alaska. Acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Tommy Beaudreau heads to Barrow tomorrow to hear what people have to say about Arctic leasing. He got a preview yesterday in Anchorage. APRN's Steve Heimel (NGP Photo) was there:
In Anchorage, I'm Steve Heimel.
The official announcement of yesterday's Federal "listening session" was curiously unofficial, insensitive to Alaska and had the symbolism of a legal notice nailed to a tenant's door by the agent of an out-of-state landlord.
This matter of OCS oil and gas is extremely important to Alaskans because, in part, the future production could help sustain the life of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) and, thus, the entire state economy--not to mention the positive effects on national security, jobs and economic recovery.
The notice was undated. Broad, advance public notice of a "listening session" was muted if it existed at all. We are unaware of any such "listening session" having been posted in the Federal Register. However, we have no reason to believe, based on evidence noted in our earlier commentary, that certain, favored groups were not personally asked to either appear or provide written comment.
To our knowledge, yesterday's "listening session" in Anchorage and today's in Barrow have little or no legal basis.
The notice established two venues for the agency official to appear and 'listen'. The most populous city in the state was provided with one noontime opportunity yesterday and Alaska's important but smaller sister village, Barrow, was scheduled for two sessions today. Alaska's second largest city, Fairbanks, our capitol city, and other cities in Western and Southeast Alaska were not scheduled for 'listening'.
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We devote some attention to this form over substance, dear reader, because the form is substantial. Here is why.
America's rule of law that is the envy of many in the world, is based upon certainty, clarity, reasonableness, transparency, objectivity, justice, due process.
When an agency holds a "public hearing" the public expects there to be reasonable and well publicized public notice. No one can legally claim later that, "I didn't know". In the case of Federal agencies, a Federal Register posting well in advance of the hearing pretty much guarantees that the process has been properly "noticed".
The fairly predictable process then includes such well-established mileposts as the hearing; the sharing of draft documents or findings resulting from the hearing; the additional sharing of final documents for public comment; the application of a new order, rule or policy; opportunity to petition for reconsideration of that new order, rule or policy; the issuance of a response to the petition; the opportunity to seek further relief from the court system, etc. As a non-lawyer and former member of a regulatory commission, I believe that general (i.e. not exact) description applies to most governmental decision processes requiring public input.
The problem with having a government official from Washington come to Alaska, announcing he or she is having a "Listening Session" is the ignoring of due process that accompanies an undefined process.
The Assistant Secretary in question here, according to the announcement, is a man named Tommy P. Beaudreau, Acting Assistant Secretary, Land and Minerals Management, U.S. Department of the Interior(DOI), with the Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). He noted an Alaska background in his remarks yesterday and if he is related to an old friend of mine, Jim Beaudreau, my respect for him is automatically elevated to the level of my esteem for the office he holds. No matter how nice a person he is, however, and no matter his background, his involvement in this "listening session" process is confusing.
For the moment, we will ignore Mr. Beaudreau's long confusing title describing one or several positions within DOI and move on to our observations:
1. A properly noticed public hearing would vacuum up testimony and assemble it into a record supporting an agency action. An unhappy party could then petition for reconsideration, appeal and otherwise contest the outcome within a due process framework. We are not aware of defined rules of a "listening session" -- except those stated in the announcement.
2. The announcement states the acting secretary, "...will hold three listening sessions June 6 and June 7 with an eye toward improving rules for oil and gas exploration, development and production in the Alaska OCS." This is very dangerous, amateurish language. It is amateurish because it states a general and not a specific goal of improving rules. Therefore, the "listener" could hear a very broad array of comment not at all relevant to the work his agency will eventually do. It is dangerous, because it is, in actuality, more than a "listening session". The notice goes on to say that the comments may be maintained by the government together with identifying information, filed under a docket and that additional written comments may be filed via www.regulations.gov. It may, therefore, be confused with an "official record".
3. What if the agency states that a future decision is, in part, based on something offered by a citizen at a "listening session"? Could an appellant claim that things "heard" at a "listening session" were not part of the official record because the "listening session" had not been properly noticed or characterized as a hearing?
4. What if an appellant claims some future agency decision is based on what was said in a "listening session", even if it wasn't? The product of litigation could be delay or destruction of a project.
5. If someone claims an agency decision was in part based on information obtained during a non-noticed federal "listening session", he could say that had he known about the "listening session" and participated he could have provided more accurate information upon which the agency could have based its decision.
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The bottom line is that if the federal landlord presiding over most of Alaska's lands and waters -- and, thus, her childrens' futures -- wants to become educated about issues relating to an official action he's about to take, he better do it transparently.
Transparent action requires due process. Due process requires proper notice, notification and implementation of a fair process.
Since this was not done, Alaskans should not be suprised if, someday in the future, Beaudreau announces that permitting or lease sales cannot be conducted on schedule because someone has challenged the basis for an agency rule or decision arising from some ill-conceived "listening session".
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In conclusion, we are quite concerned for Alaska's future for two reasons:
First, if DOI plans to issue brand new Arctic OCS regulations, how many more years of delay can we expect?
Second, though federal officials might be well-intentioned, decision makers need to be more careful about their use of powerful positions to create regulations with the force of law -- that are subject to challenge and delay -- after having created an informal process which is not due process.