FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton said Tuesday that a citizens' panel to oversee the trans-Alaska oil pipeline is not needed.
''What I've heard from the Interior (Department) people in Alaska is that the new proposal duplicates some of things we're already doing with public input,'' Norton told reporters Tuesday. ''They feel that working through the existing processes would be better than creating a new process.''
Some environmental and oil watchdog groups say they want a citizens group, similar to the regional citizens advisory councils created by Congress after the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil spill. The proposal has been made as state and federal regulators hold hearings on the renewal of the pipeline rights of way across federal and state lands. The oil companies that own the line have applied to extend their use for another 30 years beyond the January 2004 expiration.
Pipeline operations are overseen by the Anchorage-based Joint Pipeline Office, a collaborative effort by six federal and seven state agencies.
The Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility said the JPO is too tolerant of the shortcomings of the pipeline's operator.
Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the pipeline for oil company owners, contributes about $2.5 million of the Prince William Sound Citizens Advisory Council's $3.2 million budget.
A draft environmental impact statement on the federal right-of-way renewal, issued in early July, said the government recommends extending the pipeline right of way for another 30 years. None of the alternatives in the draft document proposed a new citizens' council for the pipeline, though.
Joint Pipeline Office spokesmen said earlier this summer that the government already keeps a close eye on the line.
Steve Jones, director of right-of-way renewal for the pipeline owners in Anchorage, also said this summer that existing government oversight is thorough.
''The JPO has day-to-day access to all of our people and facilities and records, and their records in turn are public,'' Jones said. ''It doesn't really add anything to us except cost.''
Nevertheless, Jones said, the owners do not oppose the citizens' council proposal.
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