Alaska: Cheney Weighs In

An effort by Dick Cheney to prod Alaska lawmakers to approve a controversial $20 billion natural-gas pipeline project has misfired amid charges from some legislators that the veep was seeking to benefit major energy-company interests. In a highly unusual intervention in a state dispute, Cheney recently wrote Alaskan legislative leaders urging them to "promptly" enact a bill that would allow three giant oil companies--British Petroleum (BP), ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil--to build a massive pipeline from Prudhoe Bay on the state's North Slope through Canada to the upper Midwest. Under a proposed contract negotiated by Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, the firms would get major tax breaks--an unpopular move at a time when all three are reporting soaring profits. "It's a giveaway on oil taxes--they're demanding concessions from the state that are worth billions," says Ethan Berkowitz, the Democratic leader of the Alaska House. Cheney contended the "needs of the nation" dictate that the pipeline be built, noting the project was endorsed by the Bush administration in May 2001--a reference to the proposals of the secret energy task force he headed. (The task force's executive director later went to work as a lobbyist for BP.) State leaders say that quick passage in a special session called by Murkowski now seems unlikely and that, if anything, Cheney's letter has caused a backlash. "He ought to stay out of local politics," says former GOP governor Wally Hickel. A spokesman for Cheney's office said the veep's letter "speaks for itself."