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Game plan: go home

House joins Senate in adjourning, blame game begins in earnest

Posted: April 30, 2012 - 11:02pm  |  Updated: May 1, 2012 - 5:53am
House minority Democrats huddle in the corner of the House chambers prior to floor session on Monday, April 30, 2012, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)  Becky Bohrer
Becky Bohrer
House minority Democrats huddle in the corner of the House chambers prior to floor session on Monday, April 30, 2012, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

House leaders abandoned plans to push through their favored natural gas pipeline plan, and Monday joined the Senate in adjourning the special legislative session called by Gov. Sean Parnell last month.

In a post-session press conference, House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, blamed the Senate for failing to pass his bill for a small-diameter natural gas pipeline, often called a “bullet” line.

“The Senate has refused to take up, or consider in a meaningful way, the long-term energy crisis across the state of Alaska,” Chenault said.

The special session lasted nearly two weeks, but failed to reach agreement on two of its three issues. Parnell had earlier removed from the session call his oil tax cut plan.

A third item, a bill targeting sex trafficking, passed easily early in the session.

The Senate adjourned Thursday, but under the Alaska Constitution would have had to return if the House had not also adjourned Monday. In fact the upper chamber held a quick pro-forma session Monday to comply with the state Constitution.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, a co-sponsor of Chenault’s House Bill 9, said the bill would have meant energy security for Alaskans, but was blocked by the Senate.

“Sadly, the Alaska Senate has told the people of Alaska ‘no,’” he said. “They’ve said ‘no’ to finding affordable energy for our communities.”

Rival legislators, who said even if the Chenault plan succeeded in building a pipeline, it would have almost certainly meant years and years of high-priced natural gas for consumers, hotly disputed its viability.

“It was a plan, and it was a bad plan,” said Rep. Bob Miller, D-Fairbanks.

Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, said what the Interior and all of Alaska needs is a large-diameter pipeline that would provide the economies of scale. That can provide the truly affordable natural gas on which communities could grow, he said.

“We’re hoping for a gasline, but I guess the devil is in the details,” he said.

A big line coming off the North Slope under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act for export could reduce pipeline tariffs to $2.50 a thousand cubic feet of natural gas, compared to $10 for a bullet line, he said. Other costs, such as purchasing the gas and distributing it in Fairbanks, would be in addition to those amounts.

Hawker said the free market, not government, would determine what type of line would be built, and House Bill 9 only kept the state’s options open.

Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said turning over control of the pipeline to a “superagency” such as Chenault and Hawker proposed could result in Alaskans being overcharged for years, she said.

“If you think about how many lawsuits we’ve been in over trans-Alaska pipeline system overcharges, and we’ve won every single one, why would we set ourselves up for that again?” she asked.

Hawker said the state needed the kind of powerful agency House Bill 9 envisioned to go up against Exxon Mobil and other major oil companies in negotiations.

House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said the bill went too far, calling it “overreach, and overkill.” It could also jeopardize the chances for a large natural gas pipeline that the state’s economy desperately needs, she said.

Kerttula, formerly a lawyer with the Department of Law who handled tariff cases, said House Bill 9 allows overriding the Regulatory Commission of Alaska’s ability to protect ratepayers, gives the agency unlimited bonding power and access to the state’s royalty gas.

Hawker, though, said those powers were needed to get “Alaska’s gas to Alaskans,” a phrase heard repeatedly at the post-session news conference.

Bullet-line supporters attacked the Senate for failing to approve their plan, and sounded as if this fall’s elections had already begun.

“We’re not talking about luxuries here, the Senate has turned their back on the basic necessity of life,” said Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage.

Chenault acknowledged he couldn’t be sure the House Bill 9 pipeline would get built, but he doubted a big Alaska Gasline Inducement Act project would get built either.

“We can sit here and we can wish like we have for the last 30 years that a 48-inch pipeline is going to get built and it will go to a certain place and do a certain thing, but that’s never going to happen unless we want to pick up the total cost of that project and build it,” he said.

Following the House’s adjournment Monday, Parnell issued a statement saying he was siding with the House against the Senate coalition.

“The Senate refused to work; the House did its job,” he said

The other big issue on which the special session had been called was Parnell’s oil tax cut proposal. That bill had passed the House in the regular session, but faced a skeptical Senate.

In the special session it faced tough questioning in both bodies, and Parnell removed it from the call last week.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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