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‘Relying on ‘corporate assurances’’
A look at the upcoming Supreme Court arguments and what advocates say is at stake.
Good morning, Alaska! It’s Monday.
In this edition: On Tuesday, the Alaska Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in a case that could have far-ranging implications for the secrecy of oil and gas companies’ financials. “Could,” however, is the operative word because the lawsuit will need to first decide whether the city of Valdez has the standing to challenge state regulators and the oil companies over it. Also, the reading list.
Current mood: 🧳
Programming note: I’m hitting the road for the week for a close friend’s wedding. I’ve got some stuff in the bank that I might have time to write down this week, but if not, I’ll see you all back next Monday!
‘Relying on ‘corporate assurances’’
On Tuesday, the Alaska Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a case challenging the state oil and gas regulators’ decision to allow Hilcorp to keep secret financial information related to its 2020 purchase of Alaska’s oil and gas assets.
The city of Valdez, which brought the lawsuit, and transparency groups say the case has critical importance when it comes to public involvement and oversight of the state’s oil and gas resources. They also argue access to financial information is essential in judging Hilcorp’s ability to safely operate, maintain and eventually deconstruct the trans-Alaska Pipeline System. The lawsuit is helmed by storied oil and gas attorney Robin Brena, who successfully argued the landmark litigation that ultimately found that the value of the trans-Alaska Pipeline System was far higher than oil companies claimed and backed the 2020 voter initiative to raise oil taxes.
“Through this appeal, Valdez is ultimately seeking access to the core financial documents held secret by the RCA that underlie the RCA’s regulation of TAPS and (the oil companies’) assertion that they are and continue to be fit, willing and able to operate TAPS,” argues the city’s brief, adding that it also is seeking opportunity use those documents to shape ongoing regulations of the TAPS operations. It doesn’t seek to reverse the sale but potentially would add potential new sideboards to it.
The Alaska Public Interest Research Group, which filed an amicus brief supporting Valdez’s position, will hold a rally outside the courthouse at noon, before the 1:30 p.m. start time. In its amicus brief, AKPIRG raised the issue of what will happen once the pipeline eventually shuts down and who will be responsible.
“Relying on ‘corporate assurances,’ Alaskans are essentially trusting that these companies will always have the capital to pay the billions of dollars required to dismantle TAPS and restore the land to its natural condition,” it explained. “This is a major assumption with tremendous public interest implications, as the viability and accessibility of (dismantling, removal and restoration) funds are essential for employing thousands of Alaskans and ensuring the health of the state’s economy beyond North Slope oil.”
Valdez calls the decisions of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to allow Hilcorp to maintain its secrecy “an unconstitutional interpretation so extreme it eliminates the rights of all Alaskans to review virtually every public document relating to the state regulation of pipelines in Alaska.”
None of that, however, will necessarily be at hand during oral arguments on Tuesday. That’s because this appeal is focused on reversing a Superior Court judge’s dismissal of the case that found the city of Valdez didn’t have the standing to challenge regulators’ decision and, if so, they didn’t exhaust all their options before resorting to a lawsuit. The judge had also ruled that the issue was moot because the sale had already been dismissed.
The brief filed by Hilcorp defending the Superior Court’s decision reiterates this point, arguing that Valdez is crying foul after sitting on the sidelines.
“Valdez’s appeal fails because Valdez made no effort to use the RCA’s regulations and procedures to obtain the very involvement it now complains it was denied,” argues the Hilcorp briefing. “The doctrines of standing and exhaustion of administrative remedies are particularly applicable to this case as the crux of Valdez’s appeal is that Valdez desired greater involvement in the RCA’s process while Valdez simultaneously failed to avail itself of opportunities to be more involved in the process. … The RCA did not foreclose any opportunity for Valdez to take action to intervene—Valdez simply failed to act.”
Valdez argues those findings were wrong and that the underlying issue of oil companies keeping their financial information out of the public eye is of critical public interest and is likely to continue to be an issue in Alaska, arguing it’s still important even though the sale has been finalized.
The oral arguments are scheduled for 1:30 p.m., June 27, at the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage. It will be live-streamed online by Gavel Alaska here. AKPIRG’s rally is set to start at noon outside the courthouse.
The independent expenditure group that’s run by newly minted University of Alaska Regent Seth Church and connected to Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor got dinged with a $2,525 campaign finance fine, which is on the bigger side of things given APOC. From the Beacon: Alaska campaign regulator fines political group with ties to university official and state attorney general
Nearly 3,000 Alaskans lost their Medicaid coverage last month as the state begins its post-pandemic recertification process. From the ADN: Some Alaskans start losing Medicaid coverage as state begins reviewing eligibility after pandemic pause
A really interesting look at how the secretive methods for setting fishing prices affect the industry. From KDLG: How Alaska's secret wild salmon prices hurt everybody, with Intrafish editor John Fiorillo
Happy Pride Parade weekend! From the ADN: Photos: Anchorage Pride Parade returns to Park Strip after 3-year absence
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