Resident will gladly give dividend to re-acquire gas leases near home

Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2004

Sen. Tom Wagoner's sermon on coal-bed methane development illustrates how out of touch some legislators are with their constituents on the subject. The Kenai senator, not unlike our Sen. Scott Ogan, seems outraged that others do not share his vision. He fails to recognize that policies developed exclusive of and contrary to one's constituency discourage public confidence.

Effective leadership, in this case, would dictate engaging the citizenry with a value-laden vision for gas development in their back yards prior to leasing away their lands from underneath them. Rather, Wagoner seems to prefer the Ogan method of pounding one's fist with "righteous anger."

Perhaps both senators are defensive because of their hard work creating the flawed policies relating to coal-bed methane development.

It is particularly disconcerting when the elected officials making errant policies concurrently accept employment from the profiting developers not because of their technical expertise, but because of the political influence they wield. Sen. Ogan's position as public relations consultant for Evergreen Resources while chairing the Senate Natural Resources Committee is one egregious example.

It is no wonder that community councils in Ogan's district and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly have called for a suspension of drilling and a buyback of leases. Preventative measures are prudent and justified given coal-bed methane development elsewhere has resulted in a 22 percent reduction in real property values elsewhere (see La Plata County, Colo., study).

Nowhere in my civics lessons was I taught the principle of the state paying its citizens to quell opposition to its policies. Sen. Wagoner's concluding thesis is that since the state owns the sub-surface rights and the royalties derived from their development, then every permanent fund dividend-cashing Alaskan better agree with him. The senator's argument contends that public greed should pave the way for ill-conceived developments. Trouble is, using the permanent fund dividend as a bribe is tricky business coal-bed methane development in our front yards today, who knows what tomorrow.

Sen. Wagoner did offer an alternative to those of us troubled by representatives who bias legislation to maximize developer profits at the expense of citizens. He challenged us to exchange our permanent fund dividends for gas leases. Let me be the first to sign up.

I pledge my permanent fund dividend for the sole purpose of re-acquiring gas leases around my home. Turning down a bribe is a small price to afford some protection for my home and land.

Since we, the citizens, are willing to step forward and sort out this mess, hopefully our legislators who, with industries help wrote and voted for these bad laws will accept a measure of responsibility for their mistakes.

So far they have not. After all, this whole debacle was brought to us courtesy of former Evergreen employee, Sen. Ogan, and all our representatives in the Mat-Su delegation.

Maybe Sen. Ogan would like to pledge the $57,000-plus he made from his stint with Evergreen while doing the company's bidding in Juneau. You, Sen. Wagoner, could contribute too since, as vice chair on the Senate Resources Committee with Sen. Ogan, you presided over the stripping of local control through the now infamous House Bill 69.

I also would hope Vic Kohring would help out too since he is a believer in property rights and yet actually sponsored HB 69. Same goes for Sen. Lyda Green and Reps. Carl Gatto, Bill Stolze and Beverly Masek all who, in voting for this law, followed the party line instead of thinking of the people. None of these "leaders" has answered constituency calls for a buyback.

But this comes as no surprise when you look at the valley delegation's Alaska Public Offices Commission reports and see all the money Evergreen officials gave them in campaign contributions.

I applaud Sen. Wagoner's ingenuity and personally know quite a few people who will also pledge their dividends in support of the "CBM-PFD Challenge."

I invite readers to join with us to use their dividends to help protect your personal property. Perhaps Sen. Wagoner will work to set up an audited deposit account to ensure our permanent fund dividends will go toward a buyback and not something frivolous.

According to my calculations, and if thestate Department of Natural Resources Web site is correct, there are 60 active leases in the Mat-Su encompassing 229,609 acres. The state was paid $500 per lease application in 2000 and one dollar per acre rent in 2003 making a total of $259,609 clearly a very sweet deal for coal-bed methane developers and an equally sour deal for Mat-Su property owners.

So, Sen. Wagoner, as we start getting pledges together, we'll be calling for that account number. Then it will be your turn to put your money where your mouth is.

Gary Wolf


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