Dunleavy fires head of state oil and gas watchdog agency

Hollis French responds to questions at a public hearing on Feb. 8, 2019.

Hollis French responds to questions at a public hearing on Feb. 8, 2019. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Gov. Michael Dunleavy has fired the chair of a state oil and gas watchdog agency.

In a letter sent Tuesday, the governor informed Hollis French he is “immediately” being removed from his position as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

A former Democratic member of the state Senate and candidate for lieutenant governor, French had been placed on administrative leave with pay after Dunleavy accused him of five different charges in January.

Those charges were chronic absenteeism, security breaches, browbeating fellow commissioners, publicly undermining the commission’s work and neglect of duty.

French disputed the charges at a public hearing earlier this month. He claimed the move to oust him was spurred by a disagreement he had with his fellow commissioners over the limits of the agency’s jurisdiction, precipitated by a gas leak in Cook Inlet two years ago.

After reviewing the findings from the hearing, Dunleavy said his decision to fire French is based on two of the five charges: absenteeism and evidence that “he consistently failed to perform the work expected of him as a Commissioner.”

French has 30 days to appeal the governor’s decision.

In a statement, French called his firing “another bad decision by the governor.”

“I am proud of my work on the commission and intend to demonstrate that it was always directed to protecting the public interest,” he added. “It’s sad that the governor seems to want a watchdog agency without any teeth.”

With French’s firing and the coming retirement of another commissioner, Cathy Foerster, Dunleavy now will likely be in a position to make two new appointments to the three-person commission.

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