By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
One Chamberlain client, the Pebble Partnership, has fared so well with Palin that the governor spoke out against a state initiative that would have erected environmental obstacles to its proposed mining project. A state watchdog group whose members she appoints is now looking at whether Palin's highly unusual public opposition to a ballot issue—with her saying, "Let me take my governor's hat off" for a moment of "personal privilege"—violated state laws. Chamberlain pushed so hard against the initiative that other clients, like the Alaska Association of Realtors, decided to oppose it at an executive meeting she attended. Chamberlain's husband also lobbied for Pebble, and three other lobbyists recently tied to the partnership, one of whom is dating Palin's legislative director, donated $4,150 to her.
In her 2006 race, Palin received $24,000 in contributions from lobbyists, most of them tied to the oil industry.
EVEN PALIN'S most plausible claim—that she's taken on Big Oil—is at best a half-truth. She did hike their taxes and push through a natural-gas pipeline deal that, at least for now, has cut them out. But delegates weren't chanting "Drill, baby, drill" during her convention speech without reason. Shortly after she became governor, she was elected chair of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), a pro-industry coalition of 30 producer states. She soon tapped Michael Smith, who was assistant secretary of fossil energy at Bush's Energy Department, as its new executive director. Smith left the Abraham Group, the lobbying and consulting firm of former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, to join IOGCC. Harper's Magazine said of Smith: "While in government, he pushed to promote oil drilling wherever a drop might be found"—and that was before Bush and McCain began pushing offshore drilling.
Smith isn't the only Palin connection to the most pro-oil administration in American history. One of her 2002 campaign treasurers, Hans Neidig, was named special assistant for Alaska in the Bush interior department. Neidig was selected by Drue Pearce, a former Alaska state senator now in charge of overseeing the federal role in the giant pipeline project. Pearce, a gushing Palin champion in recent news stories, joined in Palin's 2006 victory party.
Palin also selected Larry Hartig as state environmental-conservation commissioner, though Hartig's law firm, Hartig Rhodes, lists a dozen Alaska oil and drilling companies as clients, as well as a few mining companies. One well-known Hartig client, Halliburton Energy Services, has surprisingly extensive investments in the state—and even services the company that acquired Evergreen's Alaska interests. Another, Anadarko Petroleum, is owned by the 30th-largest corporate polluter in the country. Even Randy Ruedrich's onetime employer is a Hartig client, and the man Murkowski selected to replace Palin when she quit the Oil & Gas Commission in ostensible protest was a Hartig partner.
As commissioner, Hartig rushed to the aid last year of Shell when it ran into trouble getting offshore drilling permits from Bush's EPA. The onetime Evergreen lobbyist Kyle Parker actually e-mailed Hartig a draft letter for him to forward to an EPA appeals board, and Hartig obliged—altering the language but requesting an "expedited review" so "drilling can proceed this season." Palin has put Hartig in charge of the climate-change subcabinet she bragged about during the debate as well, suggesting that Carl Pope of the Sierra Club might not be far off when he declared: "No one is closer to the oil industry than Governor Palin."
Marathon Oil, a Wendy Chamberlain client and sponsor of Palin's inaugural, has already benefited from one unnoticed Palin decision—her support of an extension of a license that allows it and ConocoPhillips to continue exporting natural gas to Japan and other Asian countries. Palin championed this license though several gas users in Alaska objected that it would worsen the problem of declining gas reserves, and one, a major fertilizer-maker, shut its plant when the extension was granted, forcing 130 workers out of jobs. As frequently as Palin's lack of foreign-policy experience has been noted in the media, she has never cited her meeting with Japan's consul over gas issues, perhaps because it might appear inconsistent with her claim that Alaska is a bulwark of production for the U.S. itself.
Even Palin's ballyhooed pipeline is more a pipedream than it is the blow to Big Oil that Palin pretends it is. (Murkowski was about to award the deal to the oil giants when she beat him.) Two days after Palin's deal with TransCanada was approved, the company's chief executive, Hal Kvisle, repeated what he'd been saying all along: "Nothing goes ahead until Exxon is happy with it." While he was forced to pull back a bit from that moment of candor, his statement that "the five key players"—including TransCanada, the state, and three main producers—have to still "get together" and "craft something" is indisputably true.
All Palin has done is outsource the negotiations with the producers to TransCanada, who can conduct them very privately. She also offered the company a half-billion-dollar state bonus if it can get a deal going, though Palin's natural-resources commissioner, Tom Irwin, quit the Murkowski administration in part because it gave the producers financial incentives that he said were unnecessary. The only way Palin's pipeline becomes real (she claimed, absurdly, during the debate that the state was already "building" it) is if the producers, who have announced their own project now, are brought back into it—something, like Troopergate and her possible Pebble Mine violation, that won't be resolved until post-election.