FAIRBANKS - The U.S. Senate has approved an amendment to the energy bill that would route a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay through Interior Alaska, instead of across the state's northern coast and Canada.
Alaska Republican Sens. Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens voted for the amendment presented by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat. Murkowski had planned to propose a similar amendment.
Murkowski, who was irked that the Democrat beat him to it, called Daschle's amendment inadequate and unoriginal. Daschle's proposals for gas line legislation are the product of Murkowski's own work, the Alaskan said.
The route restriction approved 93-5 Wednesday was the first floor amendment to a 539-page Democratic energy policy bill released Tuesday.
Before the amendment was passed, the Alaskans added language that says that nothing in the energy bill can prevent the line from being tapped to bring gas to any part of the state. The addition also says that any facility providing the gas to Alaska consumers will be subject to state, not federal, regulation.
Stevens and Murkowski also secured authorization for a $20 million program to train Alaskans in gas line construction. The centers, which must be funded with a separate appropriation, are to be set up within a year of the bill's passage.
The Alaska senators' language was accepted by the Senate without a formal vote.
Their amendment was similar to a proposal that Daschle made. In addition to a southern route for the gas line, Daschle said, he wanted language guaranteeing Alaskans' access to the gas and a method to reduce risk to pipeline investors - probably a tax credit during times of low gas prices.
However, Daschle's actual amendment contained only the route restriction.
Murkowski, speaking on the Senate floor, said the other provisions were needed. He said he wanted to "make it clear to my friends in Alaska" that had Republicans written the amendment, "it would have been broader."
Neither Stevens nor Murkowski, though, has introduced language to create the much-discussed tax credit.
Murkowski said Daschle hasn't proposed the other provisions either because he hasn't gotten them yet from Alaska's Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles. Murkowski said his office has been providing information to Knowles, who then passes it to Daschle. The specifics of the tax credit haven't come full circle to Daschle, he said.
"I'm not surprised, this is just politics," Murkowski said.
Knowles, in a late afternoon news conference, denied that amendments were traveling a politicized path. The proposals are being generated from a variety of sources, Knowles said.
Bob King, Knowles' spokesman, said "all of these ideas have been talked about publicly." In fact, he said, "Sen. Murkowski has been urging us to get Democratic support for these initiatives. Gov. Knowles has come through with that. It surprises me that Sen. Murkowski is questioning this rather than recognizing what is a plus from all sides."
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