Palin should spend less energy on energy

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

(AP Photo/The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Robert DeBerry)

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced on July 3 that she was resigning her seat and since then people have wondered what her new focus would be. Earlier this week, she revealed in a Washington Post op-ed that her focus would be on advocating against President Barack Obama’s cap-and-trade program.

Palin has suggested that her position in “energy-rich” Alaska makes her an energy authority of sorts. Yet, her writing in the Post read less like expert policy analysis and more like someone working to derail plans that aren’t serving her own interests. In the past, she’s denied that global warming is mostly anthropogenic — though she now denies her own denial about that. Her op-ed denied mentioning global warming at all, even though that’s where Obama’s energy plan is mostly aimed. Obama’s aims for the nation, though, are major disruptions to Palin’s self-forecast legacy.

The still-sitting Alaska governor is not against a new energy plan for America; Palin just has her own agenda in mind for this. Included in this agenda are drilling off the north shore of Alaska for oil, and a natural gas pipeline that would pump into the mainland. Both, if implemented, would be huge developments that would redeem Palin’s 2008 White House bid with Sen. John McCain in the minds of many voters, especially those skeptical of the new energy world order.

In her article, Palin slammed Obama’s cap-and-trade energy policy, saying that the “Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet.” You’d think she was showing compassion for low-income families, but then why did she as governor veto $28.6 million in stimulus funds approved for weatherization assistance and renewable energy projects for Alaska? It wasn’t a show of solidarity with other Republican governors who protested the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on ideological grounds. If so, she wouldn’t have accepted the other $900 million in stimulus cash. In fact, she was the only governor who rejected the weatherization and renewable energy provisions.

At a press conference, Palin defended her action by stating she believed accepting the money would impose federal control over local government rule-making on building codes. However, members of her own Republican delegation, including state representatives Mike Hawker and Charisse Millett, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy assured her that this was not the case. U.S. Senator Mark Begich released a statement that said “it’s disappointing that our governor is turning down federal funding that could help our families and communities reduce their energy bills.” The Alaska legislature voted two days ago to hold a special session on August 10 to override Palin’s veto of the stimulus funds.

Palin’s true motives were revealed in her op-ed when she wrote: “We must move in a new direction. … In Alaska, we are progressing on the largest private-sector energy project in history. Our 3,000-mile natural gas pipeline will transport hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of our clean natural gas to hungry markets across America. We can safely drill for U.S. oil offshore and in a tiny, 2,000-acre corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if ever given the go-ahead by Washington bureaucrats.”

These are the projects that Palin has been attempting to get off the ground since she took the governor’s office in 2007. Getting them running would be a sure coup de grace over Obama and policymakers who are steering America away from traditional fossil fuel sources and toward greener pastures.

Natural gas is not as large an offender as oil and coal in carbon dioxide emissions, but the tar sands fields in Canada that the pipleline would depend on for gas production would be an intense carbon emitter. Palin’s partners in the pipeline deal are just loosely invested. Last month, Exxon made a tentative agreement to commit $150 million towards a partnership with TransCanada on the pipeline, but those close to the deal sound underwhelmed about the project.

In the arrangement, TransCanada is assured to receive $500 million from Alaska for the transaction that ultimately will cost $30 billion and likely a decade to build. Exxon, meanwhile, announced on June 29 that it won’t fight a court’s ruling that they pay over $470 million in interest payments for the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. That’s on top of the $507.5 million they’re already paying to the Exxon-Valdez victims. With competition from BP and ConocoPhillips also on deck for a pipeline, not to mention mainland states like Pennsylvania and Texas exploring their own natural gas projects, the whole project could be determined unprofitable, and hence a pipeline to nowhere.

Opening Alaska’s coasts for oil would score major points for Palin’s “drill baby drill” strategy, but there are problems with that too. Palin may believe it is Washington bureaucrats who are blocking her, but the fact is her stakeholders in that plan are not with her. In May, Shell Oil withdrew its plans for oil exploring off the Alaska north coast. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in November that the Minerals Management Service improperly granted offshore drilling leases to Shell without adequately considering environmental impacts. Shell may present scaled-down plans for 2010, but they will be nowhere near as aggressive as their original goals.

As governor, there’s little Palin can do to convince Exxon and Shell to continue to invest in these projects if federal policy is directing energy policy elsewhere. As an op-ed writer, Palin hardly sounded more influential. If she truly was concerned about families “struggling to make ends meet” then her input in the energy debate would be advocacy for cap-and-trade, not against. After all, it was her aggressive leadership that led to the windfall tax in her state that sends a $1200 rebate check to every Alaskan from oil company profits.

Cap-and-trade isn’t exactly the same; however, the revenue the federal government would collect from selling emission permits to companies could be partially, or potentially fully, rebated to families dealing with rising energy costs. Palin is familiar with this kind of transaction and her advocacy in the current climate bill debate would go a long way in strengthening rebate proposals in the Senate deliberations. If she cared about poor families she would also reconsider her decision on rejecting the stimulus funds on weatherization, before her legislature does it for her.

But pushing for Obama’s cap-and-trade plans would finalize her own defeat on the matter, and she’s not ready to concede. Remaking herself as an energy authority probably won’t work either, especially if she is not willing to make what’s good for Alaska good for the rest of America.