Politics Force Drue Pearce Out as Alaskan Pipeline Coordinator

December 2009 Vol. 236 No. 12

Drue Pearce, a Republican appointed by former President George W. Bush to direct the Office of Federal Coordinator which is overseeing the proposed Alaskan natural gas pipeline, is resigning at the request of President Obama.

Pearce, a former president of the Alaska Senate, said in a news release issued Nov. 16 that she was asked to leave her job and will do so on Jan. 3.

“It has been a profound privilege to lead this innovative team. I am a passionate supporter of the agency’s mission to bring Alaska natural gas to North American markets,” Pearce said. “I leave an effective and efficient agency with a highly skilled team of professionals actively pursuing our mission.”

Pearce served from 2001-2006 as senior adviser to the Secretary of the Interior for Alaska Affairs when she was named federal coordinator for the gas pipeline. She was confirmed by the Senate in 2006.

Within the Obama administration questions were raised as to whether Pearce could remain in her post despite being a political appointee. When the job was created it provided for the appointee to serve a term that would last for a year after the pipeline was completed, which ostensibly could mean 2019. When a legal study ruled that the office served at the pleasure of the president, Pearce was asked to resign.

No replacement has been named, although Deputy Federal Coordinator Tom Barrett will assume temporary command of the office. Obama strongly supports the pipeline project and is likely to name a high-profile Democratic replacement for Pearce. The resignation does come at a difficult time for the project as both more than two dozen federal agencies in the U.S. and Canada need to approve an environmental impact statement while at the same time, two proposals are offering competing plans to build the pipeline, with both scheduling open seasons next year.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell expressed dismay with Pearce’s resignation. “Drue brought such a wide range of Alaska experience as well as federal experience that I am concerned we’re going to be at a loss there for the federal help that Alaska needs in moving a gas line forward. This position should have transcended politics, and I don’t see that playing out right now.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said it would be “difficult to match” Pearce’s advocacy for the pipeline.

“I regret the loss of Drue’s experience and knowledge on this project, but I understand that it’s the president’s prerogative to appoint the person of his choosing,” Murkowski said. “The Alaska natural gas pipeline project is important to the economic and energy security of the nation. I’ve discussed this issue with the White House and I’m encouraged by the president’s level of interest in seeing this project succeed.”

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