The advice from U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski to state lawmakers on Tuesday was simple: "Think energy and think jobs."
In her annual address to the state lawmakers, the Alaska Republican called for cooperation to get a natural gas pipeline built to bring Alaska's North Slope gas to American markets.
The Legislature awaits a recommendation from the governor's office as to whether it wants to go ahead with a plan by TransCanada to build a pipeline. Only TransCanada has qualified under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, the state's plan to encourage construction of a pipeline. Gov. Sarah Palin has not yet announced if or when TransCanada's plan will be forwarded to the Legislature for approval.
Oil company ConocoPhillips proposed an alternate plan to TransCanada's and embarked on a hefty marketing blitz in recent months trying to convince lawmakers it had a workable alternative plan. But after Palin balked at ConocoPhillips' overtures, the Houston-based company said it would begin work on a potential pipeline this summer on its own.
Meeting with reporters after her speech, Murkowski said she was here to "lend an air of urgency" to make sure that interested parties were working toward getting the pipeline started this summer, but stopped short of saying which plan she prefers.
"Is it wrong to have a dual track? In my opinion, anything that's going to get us a pipeline sooner is worthwhile," said Murkowski, whose father Frank Murkowski served Alaska as both a U.S. senator and its governor, before losing that office to Palin.
Murkowski also told lawmakers that she thought high gas prices would change the minds of some of her colleagues in Congress to open up oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She, along with U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, recently introduced legislation to open up ANWR if oil prices hit $125 a barrel for five straight days.
Murkowski said Americans were "getting really annoyed" with high gas prices and didn't think it was good federal policy to approach foreign countries with a "cup in hand," asking them to increase their oil production while the country has its own oil reserves in ANWR.
But she said the state also needs to devote funds to alternative energy programs that she said would lower energy prices for everyday Alaskans.
"For a state that is as rich in natural resources, it's almost painful to watch as Alaskans pay some of the highest prices in the nation to heat their homes and fuel their vehicles," Murkowski said. "We must do better, we must do better."
Besides asking lawmakers to work harder on providing more affordable health care for Alaska's aging population and to work on more educational opportunities for younger Alaskans, Murkowski spoke at length about the Arctic.
The state's junior senator said the rest of the country has been ignoring the Arctic and its growing importance as new shipping lanes open in the region. And she bemoaned the fact that the U.S. has not taken a larger role in staking the country's claim to the Arctic.
"The rest of the country needs to appreciate, I don't care if you're from Iowa or Florida, we are an Arctic nation," Murkowski said.
Contact reporter Alan Sudermanat 523-2268 at email@example.com.
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