"These weren't "town hall meetings" in any meaningful sense. They were pep rallies put on by the anti-growth, anti-prosperity forces of the Valley. "Town hall meetings" are what we legislators hold regularly where all people are invited and carefully heard."
- Rep. Kohring
"One day Henny Penny was picking up corn in the cornyard when--whack!--something hit her on the head. 'Goodness gracious me!' said Henny Penny; 'the sky's falling; I must go and tell the king." So goes the old English fairy tale. It's most appropriate when one observes the flurry of stories and sheer lunacy regarding coal bed gas drilling in the Mat-Su Valley. While Henny Penny complains that the "The sky is falling," Alaska's media is leading doomsayers in the line, "the sky might fall."
We're finally moving forward with new industry in the Valley, but the ecologists, liberal media and "Gays Against Shallow Gas" are screaming that gas drilling is somewhat closer to armed robbery, that the end of the world is nye and we must go see the king (government) and get laws passed to prevent this atrocity.
That the media focused on a single company, Evergreen Resources; that they have blamed us Valley legislators with all sorts of atrocious acts, is public record. We're supposedly not doing our jobs because we weren't at what the Anchorage Daily News called "town hall meetings" recently in the Mat-Su. Of course we weren't there. We weren't invited! At the first one, Evergreen was explicitly told they wouldn't be allowed to participate. These weren't "town hall meetings" in any meaningful sense. They were pep rallies put on by the anti-growth, anti-prosperity forces of the Valley. "Town hall meetings" are what we legislators hold regularly where all people are invited and carefully heard.
In the ADN front-page story (9/21/03), the first line was an amazingly transparent effort to stoke the fires of suspicion and cause panic. It read, "The new state law that pulls the teeth from local government when it comes to regulating shallow gas drilling and production was crafted by the Colorado company that hold the gas leases..." as if Evergreen actually wrote it. It did not! Evergreen was consulted but so were many people in the gas industry and in the Valley. This is the way most legislation is written. That was admitted at the end of the ADN story, yet environmentalist Randy Virgin is quoted claiming Evergreen crossed "over the line." In other words, the entire article was slanted to the side of environmentalists.
This is terribly unfair. Private companies are held to ridiculously high standards compared to government entities. Remember the disgusting barrels of aircraft waste found buried at the Palmer Senior Center in the early '90's? It was proven to be dumped by the U.S. Government. It took several years for them to admit it and finally clean it up. Where were the eco-freaks then? Why is it when a private company wants to produce good jobs and help our economy, what they might do merits headlines and criticism day after day? Especially when there are existing state safeguards. Property owners will always have opportunity to voice concerns before drilling permits are issued, with the right to appeal. If flaws exist in this process, I will work to change them.
Why aren't we reading about Houston's Paul Zitko who owns a large parcel adjacent to Evergreen drilling sites...and strongly supports their activities? Why aren't we reading in depth with front-page headlines about how the Houston City Council willingly ceded control on this issue to the state? This fact was hidden at the back of one story. And why aren't we reading about how drilling will have a multiplier effect, greatly contributing to the Valley's economy?
When a steel company debated building a plant in the Mat-Su over a decade ago, hysterical environmentalists at a borough meeting literally screamed obscenities at company officials who were polite, yet embarrassed at the crude behavior. Screaming seemed to work. The company pulled out.
Fanning the flames of fear and distrust by the media sells newspapers, but it's not good science nor does it benefit Alaskans. The media is attempting to create a tempest, but the little teapot it's in is painfully obvious. Besides, we drink coffee out here in the Valley.
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Vic Kohring is a fifth term Republican, representing Wasilla in the Alaska State Legislature and is Chairman of the Special Committee on Oil & Gas and serves on the Transportation, Budget & Audit and Ways & Means Committees.