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Begich: Fed red tape hinders Alaska oil productivity

Published: March 6, 2012 | 9:36 am
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FAIRBANKS — Alaska is on the edge of a new boom of oil and gas production as long as the feds stop playing “regulatory whack-a-mole,” U.S. Sen. Mark Begich told state lawmakers during his annual address Monday.

The Democratic senator said increased investment in infrastructure, research and education, paired with relaxed federal regulations, will lead to renewed vigor in the state’s resource development.

“Today, I believe we’re at the cusp of a new era of Arctic development — and poised for a renaissance in Alaska’s oil and gas industry,” Begich said. “For the first time in a generation, I believe we’ll see exploration in the Arctic this summer.”

Begich said resource development is moving forward because of a range of public and private efforts, like increased focus on Arctic research, private investment in oil exploration, information-sharing agreements between oil companies and the government, investment in better infrastructure and funding for ice breakers.

“These developments are great news for Alaskans,” he said. “Getting here has been frustrating with what I’ve called ‘regulatory whack-a-mole’ by federal bureaucrats.”

He said he’s made it a priority to streamline federal regulation so work doesn’t clear one regulatory hurdle just to find itself up against another.

“The conventional wisdom — and many of you believed — that this new administration and my election meant Alaska would be locked up even tighter, with no new development on federal lands or waters,” he said. “Today, just three years later, we have accomplished more than in the last 30 years to open federal lands and waters to development.”

During a press conference after the speech, Begich went on to say the federal government and the Obama administration support a natural gas pipeline but need to see better agreement on what project to move forward with.

“We’re ready on the federal end,” he said. “We’ve talked about the permitting and those requirements. We can move those very rapidly, but we need a project.”

Begich didn’t lend preference to a specific project, but said it’s important in the development of the state’s resources.

Begich, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Alaska will continue to be strategically important as the military’s priorities shift and budgets are cut back.

He said he continues to fight the U.S. Air Force’s planned relocation of Eielson Air Force Base’s F-16 fighter squadron to Anchorage. He said he’s skeptical of the savings and is looking forward to a better analysis of the move.

Begich’s speech also focused on education and he highlighted a number of bills he’s introduced to promote investment in early education. He encouraged the governor and lawmakers to apply to be exempted from what he called the “rigid rules” of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“From day one, I have criticized this education law because it doesn’t work for urban or rural schools in Alaska,” he said. “Let’s get federal bureaucrats out of our schools.”

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