JUNEAU - Alaska's senior senator expressed reservations Monday after a federal report said the state's schedule for a natural gas pipeline had "slipped considerably."
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"I'm very concerned about it; it concerns me in that it lays out a problem that can't be solved here in Washington," U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Stevens spoke after getting reassurance from John Katz, the state's advocate in Washington, D.C., that the pipeline is on track.
Katz regularly meets with members of Congress and federal agencies to tout Alaska's prospective role in energy security, but his job has taken on more urgency after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reported last week that the state is behind schedule.
"What we are saying and telling them is that we understand commercializing the North Slope is of national interest," Katz said of his Monday meeting with Stevens. "We intend to do everything to fulfill that national need. We understand the urgency."
Katz also plans to meet later this week with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, about the FERC report on licensing and constructing the pipeline, which offered this assessment:
"The federal government is ready to act. However, no pipeline application has been developed, and the prospects of an application are more remote than a year ago. Over the past year, the schedule for an Alaska gas pipeline has slipped considerably."
The report put Gov. Sarah Palin's office, state lawmakers and resource officials on the defensive, saying there is no slippage.
It also pressed Katz into reassuring federal officials that Palin understands the pipeline's national implications.
"The message is Alaska has significant reserves of natural gas; they represent a secure domestic supply, and we are ready and willing to provide them to the country," Katz told the AP.
Stevens said he was pleased with the meeting, but warned the federal government's message of urgency must be heeded.
"(Katz has) assured me the pipeline is on the front burner of the governor's office, and that we are working toward the same goal," Stevens said.
"The report from FERC, it reflects the urgency within the federal government to have the state act as quick as possible," he said.
Last year, former Gov. Frank Murkowski struck an agreement with BP, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips to build a $25 billion pipeline from the North Slope through Canada and into the Midwest.
But state lawmakers believed the deal gave too many considerations to the big firms, including locking in tax rates for several decades, and provided few key assurances for the state. No vote was ever taken on that before Murkowski left office in December.
Katz said Palin is fulfilling her public pledge to renegotiate a deal.
She has since met with 12 groups interested in delivering 35 trillion cubic feet of proved natural gas reserves from the North Slope to the best available market. She has promised to soon provide a proposal to the Legislature.
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