AP Exclusive: E-mails show Palin administration focused on public perception of pipeline dealBy Becky Bohrer, AP
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
AP Exclusive: Palin aides worked to sell gas deal
JUNEAU, Alaska — Sarah Palin’s administration paid close attention two years ago to how the public perceived her plans to bring a massive natural gas pipeline to Alaska, with one aide worrying the then-governor would face criticism of grandstanding for traveling out of state at a critical time for the plan’s prospects.
E-mail exchanges also show at-times close communication between staff and representatives of the Canadian company Palin picked to build the line. In June 2008, after her recommendation of the company and less than two months before the Legislature voted on the contract, Palin agreed to host people involved with the project at her home for a salmon feast and “informal gasline chat.”
“There’s a Costco in Juneau, if you know what I mean,” Palin wrote. “And my family is quite capable of setting out food and cleaning up afterwards.”
The correspondence is contained in more than 2,000 pages of e-mails between Palin’s office and others surrounding the pipeline process. The e-mails were released to The Associated Press this week under a public records request filed in 2008, when Palin was the Republican vice presidential nominee. Palin resigned as governor last year.
A pipeline to carry natural gas from Alaska’s North Slope to the rest if the nation and other markets has long been a dream of Alaskans, seen as a way to create jobs, more reliable energy and revenue as oil production declines.
But there were sharp divisions over how best to build it. Palin was wary of the three oil giants, the major North Slope players, and said she wanted to do what was best for Alaska, not the companies. She eventually backed TransCanada Corp., a Canadian pipeline company.
TransCanada is in the midst of seeking shipping commitments for the line. A competing project involving BP and ConocoPhillips plans to begin doing the same later this year, though it’s widely expected there will only be one major line.
Some e-mails suggest the administration closely watched how its position was playing in the media and was sensitive to any criticism.
In one exchange dated May 5, 2008, Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin, a Palin administration official, questioned why Palin would take a trip “back east” that month, on the cusp of the special legislative session Palin called to consider her eventual recommendation that TransCanada receive the license to build the pipeline and up to $500 million from the state.
“Given that all the focus will be on Juneau, aren’t we inviting criticism that she isn’t focused on the real issue and is grandstanding on the national stage?” he wrote.
Others worried that Palin would lose political capital in the decision to go with the Canadian firm.
The documents also illustrate some of the contacts between the administration and TransCanada.
Marty Rutherford, a Palin point person on the pipeline team, chided a TransCanada vice president in an Aug. 4, 2008, e-mail for comments the company’s chief executive made about the project requiring the involvement of Exxon Mobil, a company that’s had a bitter history in Alaska.
“We need to ensure that comments about the Producers are scripted in the future,” Rutherford wrote to Tony Palmer, TransCanada’s vice president for Alaska Development.
Palmer responded that he understood the state and TransCanada should be coordinated “to the best of our ability” and would try to sensitize TransCanada to “that requirement.”
Exxon Mobil has since joined TransCanada’s effort.
On Tuesday, Palmer said there was never a syncing of messages. Rutherford agreed, saying Wednesday it’s not unusual to reach out to stakeholders and let them know what’s going to be said.
She also said it’s not unusual for a governor to host get-to-know-you events, though she didn’t recall any cookout. And she said it was important to “really spend time and try to help people understand” the administration’s approach to pushing a pipeline project forward.
The AP requested different groups of e-mails, including from June 1, 2007, and Dec. 1, 2007, to cover the submission period for companies vying for the pipeline contract. Only one, dated Nov. 30, 2007, was apparently included. Public records officer Linda Perez said she would look into why other e-mails weren’t included.
E-mails released run into late 2008.
The governor’s office also released a 72-page log detailing e-mails it was withholding for what it described as reasons including attorney-client or executive privilege. Subject lines on those e-mails included “Messaging/Strategy,” ”Myth Busting,” and “Bad News.”
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