Muckraker: Grist on Politics

At a rally in Ohio on Tuesday, GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin told the crowd that she’d head up energy policy in a McCain administration.

 

“John and I, we’ve discussed some new responsibilities that I’m going to have as vice president,” Palin said. “First, I’ll help to lead the mission of energy security.”

 

She cited her record of taking on “the big oil company interests” as a qualification for that work, as well as her experience lobbying for a natural gas pipeline. “I got agreements through competition to build a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline and that’s going to feed very hungry markets when it’s built,” she said. “When that last section of pipe is laid, America will be one step closer to energy independence and that’s good for our economy and it’s good for our security.”

 

McCain also claimed last week that his running mate “knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America.”

 

But Palin’s energy-related rhetoric has already gotten her into trouble on the campaign trail.  The pipeline she talks about only exists on paper at this point, and the necessary federal approval is still years away. She’s also been called out for exaggerating the role that Alaska plays in the country’s energy portfolio, claiming in her interview with Charlie Gibson last week that the state provides “20 percent ” of the nation’s power. It provides just 3.5 percent, and several fact-checking sites have since completely debunked her claim.

Palin has certainly taken on Big Oil interests in the state at times, imposing new taxes on the industry and dueling with them over the terms of the gas pipeline. But she’s also seen as a friend of the oil companies, lobbying for drilling in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and criticizing the Bush administration for not being pro-drilling enough.

 

At Tuesday’s rally in Ohio, Palin also said that she would lead up the administration’s transparency plan. “I’m going to help lead the mission of reforming government,” she said. “We’re going to make government more transparent and more accountable.” But a New York Times piece published last weekend revealed a record of secrecy and cronyism in her time as governor.

 

One example The Times gave is how she handled the Interior Department’s recent decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species.

Palin and other state officials expressed concern that listing polar bears would impair oil and gas development in the state, and sued the feds, claiming that their decision to list the bear was “not based on the best scientific and commercial data available.” A “comprehensive review” of the federal science by state wildlife officials found no reason to support listing the bears as endangered, Palin argued. But emails released via a public-records request show that Alaskan state scientists agreed with federal researchers that polar bears are threatened by shrinking ice.

The transparency issue is even more relevant to a possible future Palin role in guiding energy policy given the record of the current vice president. Early in President George W. Bush’s first term, Cheney led the White House’s task force on energy. When lawmakers and interest groups pressed for records of the task force meetings to be released, Cheney refused. Ultimately, the issue wound up before the Supreme Court, where the justices sided with Cheney’s assertion that the president and vice president have a right to meet in secret with anyone they want.