Southeast lawmakers discuss proposal

Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2007

Southeast Alaska lawmakers applauded the governor's efforts at edging the state closer to construction of a North Slope natural gas pipeline with the introduction of a bill that outlines requirements for potential developers - and what the state wants in return.

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"I appreciate the governor moving forward in a very fast manner as early as possible in the session so we can start work on it," said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka.

"I haven't seen (the bill) yet, but I am glad that we are getting started on it," said Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell. "It is still going to take a while."

The bill, the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, was designed to propel developers to submit project proposals to move Alaska's billions of dollars of gas to market.

The bill will next go before the state's lawmakers as part of a public review process.

"You never see a bill go through that is not changed," said House minority leader and Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, immediately following the press conference. She said she was impressed with the initial look of the bill and commended the governor for the transparent process she has proposed.

"The House democrats are committed to the process," she said.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, remarked about how drastically different Palin's process in developing the proposal has been from her predecessor, former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Murkowski's proposal had been widely criticized for being drawn up in secrecy and giving too much to producers.

"I think that the process she has outlined is very transparent," Elton said.

"This is going to assure that everybody has a shot at participation," he said.

Elton worried that Palin's decision to bring the bill to lawmakers was that it might be difficult to get all 60 of them to agree.

"She will not get one answer," Elton said.

"I do think that this governor deserves an opportunity to be successful, and I think that success is enhanced if you have one person negotiating rather than 60," he said.

"One of the issues that we immediately face is to decide the consultants we are going to hire," he said. "The complexity and the issue of and it being so vitally critical that we get it right, we need to have some expertise. And that is gong to take a little bit of time," he said.

For Stedman, Southeast will benefit not by access to more affordable natural gas, but access to jobs and training that are promised in the bill.

Wilson, however, said that she would like to see Southeast be considered when distributing the resource.

"I just want to make sure that the people in the rest of the state get their fair of the resource, that would mean people in the west and people in the south. We need to be thinking about our energy needs," Wilson said.

Palin expressed hope that the legislation would be passed this session, which could mean the 26th Legislature would have the opportunity to evaluate actual developer applications.

"I think it is a good goal, and if we don't accomplish it, I think the governor should hold us over immediately until we get it," Stedman said.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com. Read her blog, the Muskegger, at www.juneaublogger.com.



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