President Barack Obama has nominated a former aide of ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to serve as the federal coordinator for the Alaska natural gas pipeline project.
Larry Persily has worked on oil and gas issues for three Alaska governors and the state Legislature, working on both sides of the aisle. A Democrat, he is currently an aide handling oil and gas issues for Republican state Rep. Mike Hawker, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.
Persily, a former journalist, said he was flattered by the nomination announced Wednesday.
Known for his droll humor, Persily added that his "feet were getting pretty cold" wondering what he's in for taking on a complex job. A multibillion-dollar pipeline tapping the North Slope's vast resources has been a goal of Alaskans for more than three decades.
"Everything about this project is large," he said. "It's a daunting task. It'll be fun. It'll be exciting. But it'll be overwhelming."
Persily, 58, worked as a deputy commissioner at the Alaska Department of Revenue under Gov. Frank Murkowski.
He worked in Palin's Washington, D.C., office on oil, gas, Arctic, commerce, transportation and tax issues.
Persily also has a long history as a journalist, working as an editor or reporter in Wrangell, Juneau and Anchorage.
Alaska's congressional delegation commended Obama for the nomination, saying Persily has the credentials to shepherd development of a pipeline. Persily, who must be confirmed by the Senate, would work with federal agencies involved in the permitting and construction of a line.
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, who recommended Persily for the post, noted his "bipartisan credentials" and expertise.
"Larry is an excellent choice for this important position. Few people can match his depth of knowledge and history on Alaska oil and gas issues," Begich, D-Alaska, said in a prepared statement.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was pleased that the president acted quickly to fill the position. Persily replaces Republican Drue Pearce, who resigned last month at Obama's request.
"Commercializing Alaska's vast reserves of natural gas is vital not only for the economy of the state, but the energy security of the nation as well," Murkowski said.
Alaska's lone member of the U.S. House, Republican Don Young, said he appreciated Obama's commitment to the pipeline.
"In these difficult economic times, a project that would ensure as many jobs as the pipeline cannot be ignored," Young said. "With the support from both the federal government and the state, the time is now to put Alaskans to work developing Alaskan natural resources!"
The pipeline was a hallmark of Palin's administration, which pushed through a plan that awarded a state contract to Canadian gas pipeline company TransCanada with a license to develop the pipeline. Exxon Mobil, the largest holder of gas reserves on the North Slope, joined that project this year.
A competing project, the Denali Gas Pipeline, was launched by the other two major North Slope gas leaseholders, BP PLC and ConocoPhillips.
Both plans call for a pipeline that runs south to the state's interior and then east to a hub in Canada where gas could be supplied to the lower 48 states.
Congress ordered the creation of the coordinator position in 2004 to speed federal review of the proposed pipeline. The law establishing the job directed the federal coordinator and the state of Alaska to set up a joint surveillance and monitoring agreement like the one used for construction of the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s.