In AOGA gubernatorial debate, Dunleavy and Hawkins grill Walker on China, gasline prospects

(From left to right) former State Senator Mike Dunleavy, businessman Scott Hawkins and Gov. Bill Walker at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference in Anchorage. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage)

Governor Bill Walker’s challengers in the upcoming election are criticizing his policies toward China and the proposed Alaska LNG project.

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Walker, former State Senator Mike Dunleavy and businessman Scott Hawkins faced off in a debate yesterday at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference in Anchorage.

Dunleavy questioned whether the state is able to handle its lead role in pursuing the gas line.

“I’ve got to be honest with you that I don’t have faith in the administration that they are going to be able to pull this off with the folks they have in place and the expertise,” Dunleavy said. “And that greatly concerns me and I think it concerns folks in this room and folks outside this room.”

The Walker Administration is negotiating with Chinese entities to help finance the gasline, and the governor just returned from a trade mission to China. Hawkins said China is a geopolitical rival of the United States and argued the nation shouldn’t get too involved.

“We have to be very careful what role they play in the project,” Hawkins said. “It’s well and good that they buy LNG from us, it’s okay if there’s a small minority role that they play in the project. To give them much control or much influence on the project would be a grave strategic error, I believe.”

Walker defended China’s involvement in the project, saying it will have a minority role in AK LNG and noted the nation is the state’s top trading partner. The governor said he’s proud of how his administration has handled the project.

“We’ve made historic progress on the gasline. And I know I get accused of being a little fixated on the gasline,” Walker said. “You know, it’s the opportunity. It’s an incredible opportunity for the state. And if we let that opportunity go by and we don’t monetize that gas, shame on us.”

The wide-ranging debate also touched on topics like crime, education, the opioid epidemic and tax policy. Candidate and state representative Mike Chenault was slated to participate, but did not attend. The Associated Press reports that Chenault has dropped out of the Republican primary race for governor.

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Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.