ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton has named state Sen. Drue Pearce to serve in the newly created position of senior advisor for Alaskan affairs in Washington D.C.
At an Anchorage news conference Saturday Norton also named Camden Toohey to serve as special assistant to the secretary for Alaska, an Anchorage-based position.
''It's important for me to see firsthand and to learn what I can about issues here in Alaska. It's even more important that I have people who truly understand the issues of this state,'' Norton said in naming the two.
Pearce, a Republican from Anchorage, was first elected to the state Senate in 1988, serving twice as Senate President. Prior to the Senate, she served two terms in the state House of Representatives. Her resignation from the Senate is effective Monday.
''There's probably no Alaskan that isn't touched by the Department of the Interior and certainly almost no activity in our state that the department doesn't have some piece of management in,'' Pearce said. ''I pledge to Alaskans that I will be in the secretary's office as an Alaskan working on the issues with that Alaskan philosophy''
Toohey has served since 1996 as executive director of Arctic Power, a nonprofit group lobbying to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. From 1987 to 1996 he served as an assistant to the state Senate Finance Committee.
''I've been working on one issue for the past six years and I'm looking forward to working on a few others,'' Toohey said.
Norton said both Pearce and Toohey will help the department with Alaska issues, including efforts to open ANWR to drilling; development of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska; development of North Slope natural gas reserves; the right-of-way renewal of the trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline and other issues dealing with wildlife, endangered species and the environment.
Toohey will begin his job Monday. Pearce said she would be moving to Washington D.C. by Aug. 1.
''One of the difficult things at Interior is trying to persuade westerners to move to Washington. It is, unfortunately, a real sacrifice,'' Norton said.
Norton last visited Alaska in late March, when the Arctic refuge coastal plain -- also known as the 10-02 area -- was covered with snow and ice. She promised a return visit to the refuge in spring.
''I've heard about the caribou herds and the calving season. I want to visit the 10-02 area and see what wildlife is present there,'' she said.
Norton planned to travel to Arctic Village on Monday to meet with Gwich'in Natives who oppose drilling ''to gain their perspective on energy development and the caribou herds,'' she said.
Norton said she remained confident that, with new technology, the refuge could be explored for oil and gas while protecting wildlife and the environment.
She planned to visit the refuge, the North Slope oil fields and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on Tuesday and was scheduled to return to Washington D.C. on Wednesday.
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