Contract upsets environmentalists

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A fund-raising contract awarded to the former head of Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council would allow him to keep part of any funds given to the group by Congress.

Jim Carter resigned as executive director of the oil monitoring group in March. Now he stands to gain $120,000 this year if a $1 million request for federal funds comes through and $440,000 if a five-year request is granted. His commission would be paid out of money granted to the council by the Inlet's oil companies, which currently fund most of the council's work.

Council officials say it's simply a performance-based contract that applies to any money that Carter raises for the monitoring group. But environmentalists say the contract amounts to an unwarranted golden parachute for the council's longtime leader, since the group has long been lobbying to get those federal funds.

''This use of CIRCAC funding is not only legally suspect but morally bankrupt,'' Randy Virgin, executive director of the Alaska Center for the Environment, wrote in a letter Monday to the U.S. Coast Guard, which has oversight of the citizens group.

In the letter, five environmental groups raised Carter's contract along with other criticisms, complaining in general that the council is ineffective because it fails to challenge the local oil industry.

They said the council had bent the rules to appoint people with industry ties to key positions and keep out qualified environmentalists. They also said the board failed to lobby on important issues to avoid upsetting industry.

Environmentalists hold one of 13 board seats on the Cook Inlet council, which also is made up of civic, Native and business appointees. The group's budget is about $1 million a year, much of which is spent on scientific studies and environmental monitoring programs.

''I thought it strange that all the accolades when Jim retired never pointed to any substantive improvements in the safety of Cook Inlet operations. They were only about how good he was at bringing in money,'' said Bob Shavelson, director of Cook Inlet Keeper, which holds the environmental seat on CIRCAC's board.

Steve Howell, a council spokesman, said the critique comes from a misunderstanding of the group's proper role.

''CIRCAC is a consensus builder. It's not a fringe group with a narrow focus,'' he told the Anchorage Daily News.

Council officials also disputed the notion that the contract is a reward for past services.

''I'm looking at it strictly as a performance-based contract,'' said John Douglas, a retired oil executive who represents the city of Kenai on the council. ''If we don't get any money, he doesn't get any pay.''

Carter said the complaints against him were devastating. He said that if he earned a big commission, he planned to spend some of the money to hire a grant writer to help the council further.

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