Begich eyes hardball with White House to push Alaska drilling

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) might use Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) playbook to force the White House to clarify its policy on oil-and-gas drilling off his state’s coast, telling reporters he hasn’t ruled out blocking an administration nominee over the issue.

“I will use whatever means necessary to get them to respond to this. All we are asking for is a very simple thing: Tell us what the rules are and give us a timetable. That is not complicated,” Begich said Monday after testifying before a presidential commission probing the BP oil spill.

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Landrieu is blocking a Senate vote to confirm Jacob Lew as White House budget chief until the federal ban on deepwater oil-and-gas drilling is lifted or modified.

Now Begich – another pro-drilling Democrat – said he’s looking at the procedural options that the Senate rules allow too. He wants a clear signal from the Obama administration on allowing companies to move ahead with exploratory drilling.

The Interior Department has delayed Shell Oil’s plans to drill in shallow Arctic waters this year, even though they’re not covered by the drilling ban. Begich now fears that 2011 could also slip away and that industry investment will eventually migrate elsewhere.

He applied gentler pressure earlier this month, sending President Obama a letter urging him to personally help create “reasonable timelines” for development.

Begich said Monday that he hopes to get a response from the administration, but if the soft pressure doesn’t work, he will look at tougher measures when Congress returns after the mid-term elections.

“If I have to use procedural measures, we will do it, because it is getting to a point where we have a period that is getting shorter and shorter to make decisions,” Begich said.

“Mary [Landrieu], in a lot of ways, kind of showed that there are certain avenues that are necessary to get some response,” he later added, although he did not provide any details about his possible efforts.

“But I am not going to limit myself that’s for sure. When we get back there will be a lot of issues on the table, and I am not just going to sit there and just say well, we are going to do all this and go home and my industry and activity in Alaska can’t get a decision. We have got to get a decision out of the White House,” Begich said.

Begich’s Sept. 16 letter to Obama alleges that “uncertainty is irreparably harming our industry and economy” and that a clear timeline and process should be created within 60 days.



Begich notes in the letter that while planned shallow-water wells in Arctic seas are not formally covered by the deepwater ban imposed after the BP spill, Alaska has nonetheless been “lost in the mix.”