A dispute over the amount of secrecy allowed to board members of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation resulted in an unusual angry speech on the floor of the Alaska House on Monday.
Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said she had been forced to cancel a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee after attorney general Craig Richards seemingly declined to testify before the committee.
In her seven years as a legislator, LeDoux said that was the first time a member of the governor’s cabinet had ever refused to appear before the Legislature.
“I have never in those seven years ever had an administration official simply refuse to come to a meeting,” she said in her floor speech. “My first reaction was maybe I’ll subpoena the guy.”
Other members of the House shared LeDoux’s outrage. Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, is a member of the House minority, but he said he shared the majority member’s disappointment.
“It is not a partisan issue,” he said.
After a House Finance Committee meeting, members of the media asked Richards about his apparent refusal. He said it isn’t true that he or his office refused to testify.
“The extent to which I, as the attorney general, testify, is a matter of prerogative within the governor’s office,” he said.
Indeed, the email declining Richards’ testimony was sent from Darwin Peterson, the governor’s liaison to the Legislature. In the email, Peterson wrote in part: “we don’t believe the issue … is within the scope of the governor’s call for this special session, therefore the attorney general must respectfully decline your invitation to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.”
The Empire contacted Peterson’s office but questions were referred to the governor’s press office. In turn, the press office referred questions to the attorney general’s office.
Richards said that after LeDoux’s speech, he spoke with the Gov. Bill Walker.
“The governor asked that I make myself available, and I made that offer,” Richards said. “If she’s inclined to take me up on it, I’ll be happy to testify.”
LeDoux confirmed that Richards had reached out, but said he didn’t offer an explanation. “There was just that he had chatted with the governor and he would (appear),” she said.
The irony of the situation is that the topic of discussion was to revolve around disclosure in the AKLNG natural gas project.
Walker has stated that he wants the project — and the involvement of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation — to be transparent to the public.
With the state’s partners (BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil) insisting upon confidentiality and the signing of a secrecy pledge, the AGDC has been forced to sit out of at least one project meeting as a result, said Dan Fauske, president of AGDC.
That comment has engendered sharp questions from members of the House Finance Committee, who on Monday interrogated Richards about whether the state’s insistence on transparency actually weakens its position in AKLNG if its partners won’t deal with it otherwise.
Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, on Monday evening read testimony from the oil companies that indicated they might find it difficult to work with the state’s transparency.
Richards said he thinks it’s possible for the state to maintain its transparency pledge.
“The public has an interest in having more information available. Finding that balance is part of the process that the Department of Law has been working on with AGDC and I think that you find that balance all the time in all kinds of commercial relationships,” he said.
He pointed to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which frequently deals with corporate financing, and the Department of Natural Resources’ oil and gas division, which keeps North Slope oil producer information confidential.
As for LeDoux, she said she is uncertain whether the Judiciary committee will even meet before the end of the special session. “It just seemed like a good idea while we were here,” she said. “I think I’m just going to see what happens with the regulations.”