TransCanada emails show Palin image anxiety

Sarah Palin's office devoted close attention to how the public perceived the then-governor's proposal two years ago for a massive natural gas pipeline in Alaska.

Calgary company co-operated with Alaska administration

Sarah Palin's administration paid close attention two years ago to how the public perceived her plan for a massive natural gas pipeline project in Alaska, with one aide worrying the then-governor would face criticism for travelling out of the state at a critical time for the proposal's prospects. 

Email exchanges also show close communication between her staff and Calgary-based TransCanada Corp., which Palin picked to build the line.

Sarah Palin, centre, with Alaska administration officials Marty Rutherford, left, and Patrick Galvin, at a news conference the then-governor held in July 2007. ((Al Grillo/Associated Press))

In June 2008, less than two months before the Alaska legislature voted on the contract, Palin invited TransCanada representatives to her home for an  "informal gasline chat" and salmon feast.

Palin, who in late August 2008 was chosen by Republican presidential nominee John McCain as his running mate, wrote in the June invitation that "my family is quite capable of setting out food and cleaning up afterwards."

The correspondence is contained in more than 2,000 emails between Palin's office and others surrounding the pipeline process. The emails were released to The Associated Press this week under a public records request filed in 2008 while Palin was the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

She resigned as governor last year. 

Pipeline dream

A pipeline to carry natural gas from Alaska's North Slope to the rest of America and other markets has long been a dream of Alaskans, seen as a way to create jobs, provide more reliable energy and add to state revenues as oil production declines. 

But there were sharp divisions over how best to build it. Palin was wary of the international oil giants that are the major North Slope players, and said she wanted to do what was best for Alaska, not the companies.

She eventually backed TransCanada, which now is seeking shipping commitments for the line. A competing project involving BP and ConocoPhillips intends to begin doing the same later this year, though it's widely expected there will be only one major line. 

Some emails suggest Palin's administration closely watched how its position was playing in the media and was sensitive to any criticism. 

In an exchange dated May 5, 2008, Revenue Commissioner Patrick Galvin, an administration official, questioned why the governor would take a trip "back east" on the cusp of the special legislative session Palin had called to consider her eventual recommendation that TransCanada receive the licence to build the pipeline, supported by up to $500 million from the state. 

Fear of 'grandstanding'

"Given that all the focus will be on Juneau, aren't we inviting criticism that she isn't focused on the real issue and is grandstanding on the national stage?" he wrote. 

Others worried that Palin would lose political capital because of the decision to go with the Canadian firm. 

The documents also illustrate contacts between the administration and TransCanada. Marty Rutherford, a Palin point person on the pipeline team, chided a TransCanada vice-president in an Aug. 4, 2008, email for comments the company's chief executive had made about the project requiring the involvement of Exxon Mobil, which has had a bitter history in Alaska. 

"We need to ensure that comments about the producers are scripted in the future," Rutherford wrote to Tony Palmer, TransCanada's vice-president for Alaska development. 

Palmer responded that he understood that statements from the government and TransCanada should be co-ordinated "to the best of our ability" and he would try to sensitize TransCanada executives to "that requirement." 

Exxon Mobil has since joined TransCanada's effort. 

On Tuesday, Palmer said there was never a synchronizing of messages. Rutherford agreed, saying Wednesday it's not unusual to reach out to stakeholders and let them know what's going to be said. 

She also said it's not unusual for a governor to host get-to-know-you events, though she didn't recall any cookout. And she said it was important to "really spend time and try to help people understand" the administration's approach to pushing a pipeline project forward.