During a gubernatorial forum on Oct. 31, which was moderated by Dan Fagan and me, then candidate Bill Walker said that he would drop his suit against DNR on Point Thomson if he were elected governor.
“You’ll drop the suit?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
Despite what he said at the forum, Walker has not dropped the suit, and is in “no hurry” to remove himself, he said through his spokesperson Grace Jang.
In 2012, Gov. Walker and his law partner Craig Richards, who is now his acting attorney general, filed a public interest suit against the state over DNR’s settlement with ExxonMobil over development of Point Thomson, a mammoth gas and condensate field on the North Slope.
Recently, Walker gave Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott the authority to decide if Walker’s prior litigation against the state when he was a private attorney should preclude him from making decisions about those cases now that he’s governor. In a letter, Walker specifically mentions giving Mallott decision-making power over whether or not Walker should be involved in Point Thomson.
On Dec. 1, Walker and Richards filed a substitute of counsel motion. On Dec. 16, the Supreme Court granted the motion. The lawyer for the case is now Robin Brena, who is buying Walker’s and Richard’s law firm. Brena chaired Walker’s oil and gas transition-team committee.
The suit alleges that DNR should have had more input from the Legislature and the public before settling the plan of development for the field.
“I filed this as a public interest litigant. The deal was illegal then; it’s illegal now,” Walker said in a statement. “I’m exploring procedural options to substitute myself out with a potential new plaintiff. There’s no immediate hurry. I want to make sure the right thing is done in the interest of the people of the state of Alaska. This has nothing to do with stopping current activity on Point Thomson.”
The field sat undeveloped for decades. Over the years, the state has gone as far as to try to yank Exxon’s leases because of lack of development. Since the settlement, and as of April, Exxon has spent roughly $2 billion developing it. It’s expected to produce 10,000 barrels a day of liquids by 2016. The field contains a quarter of the North Slope’s known natural gas reserves and is expected to be pivotal in building the large diameter natural gas pipeline.
If Walker prevails, the project could be put on hold.
That a sitting governor would be suing the state might not be unprecedented, but it’s certainly unusual, and could lend itself to questions about conflicts of interest. For instance, in such cases, at least partial attorney’s fees might be granted to whoever wins the case. If Walker prevails, will he accept those fees for work that he’s done and for work that Brena will do? If the state wins, who will pay? Walker or Brena?
Will Walker be paying Brena for legal services on the case?
Walker, again through his spokesperson said that those details have yet to be worked out with Brena. “There has been no discussion of legal fees owed or due because nothing has happened at this point,” Walker said.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org