Senate approves Palin critic to head Alaska gas pipeline office

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Larry Persily to head a federal office tasked with pushing forward a long-planned – and long-delayed – pipeline project to bring large natural gas supplies from Alaska’s North Slope to markets in the lower 48 states.

Lawmakers confirmed Persily to be Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects by unanimous consent.

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Persily served as an aide to several Alaska governors – including former governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who Persily criticized after leaving her administration in 2008.

"She's not qualified, she doesn't have the judgment, to be next in line to the president of the United States," Persily told Bloomberg in August of 2008, one of several critical remarks he has made about Palin.

Persily will come to the federal pipeline position from his job as an aide to Mike Hawker, a GOP member of Alaska’s state legislature.

Two industry partnerships are vying to build the Alaska gas pipeline – TransCanada and Exxon Mobil have formed one group, while BP and ConocoPhillips have a competing proposal.

The pipeline project is estimated to cost in the $20 billion to $40 billion range, and the long-planned effort has for many years faced one hurdle and false start after another.

Most recently, the growing abundance of shale gas in the lower 48 states has led to questions about the need for the massive pipeline.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) – who backed Persily’s nomination – recently said that shale gas finds and development are no reason to look away from the large Alaskan supplies.

"Recent news about the cost of the project and competition from other gas finds in the Lower 48 are not reasons to give up. The gasline continues to enjoy strong support from energy companies, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and the President," she said in a speech last month to Alaska’s legislature.

"Even though shale gas is coming on line, our gas still has a critical role to play. I believe the abundance of gas will cause industrial sectors from trucking to power generation to convert to gas, creating a more stable market where Alaska gas, shale gas, and foreign LNG will all find their market," Murkowski added.