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Legislators, Palin battle over need for in-state gas use

Posted: Thursday, April 03, 2008

Legislators are asking Gov. Sarah Palin to expand her call for a June special session to include finding a faster way to get cheap natural gas to Alaskans, but Palin said her administration is already doing that.

In May the state will announce its conclusion on TransCanada's natural gas pipeline proposal and ask the Legislature to consider it in a special session beginning June 3.

Top leaders in the House and the Senate are asking Palin to expand the call to include in-state use of Alaska's natural gas.

Dueling press conferences over gas pipelines and budget cuts ran through the day Wednesday at the Capitol.

The governor was unhappy that legislators had cut numerous items from her proposed capital budget.

"If Alaskans knew what was going on in this building today, they would be outraged," Palin said.

Decreasing gas supplies and rising costs of natural gas in Southcentral Alaska communities have made that a hot issue in that area.

"We have an energy crisis in state," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, who joined Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, at a press conference Wednesday calling for more action by the state to address the problem.

All were sporting newly minted buttons proclaiming "In-state use of Alaska's gas."

House leaders were preparing to make a similar call, and Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, said the situation was even more critical in his hometown, largely reliant on heating oil, which people can't afford.

"My community is dying," Ramras said.

Resolutions were introduced in both the House and the Senate on Wednesday calling on Palin to expand the topics to be considered during the special session, with the Senate's resolution passing late in the day.

Green suggested the Legislature should call itself into special session immediately upon receipt of Palin's recommendation on TransCanada, and not wait for June 3.

The senator said after the press conference that any additional special session should be in Juneau.

"This would by far be the best location," she said.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, agreed, though he said legislators would likely want to hold hearings elsewhere.

Green said the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, the coalition she heads, did not see the proposal to expand the session to include in-state gas as a challenge to Palin, with whom she has had a testy relationship, despite both being Republicans from Wasilla.

"We see this as a very positive invitation," she said.

That's not how Palin took it.

At a later press conference with top members of her gas pipeline team, Palin pinned one of the "In-State" buttons on her lapel in front of TV cameras.

"We're all on the same team," she said.

But Department of Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin said the call for in-state gas use was timed to distract the media from significant cuts the Senate made to Palin's budget.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin said the Palin administration coined the term "in-state use of gas" with its Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, passed by the Legislature overwhelmingly last year.

"AGIA clearly provides gas for Alaskans," Irwin said.

Irwin criticized the Senate for cutting money from the governor's budget request that would do a required study of how much natural gas could be taken from the North Slope wells.

Senate Minority Leader Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, who spent most of the day battling Green over the budget on the floor of the Senate, agreed with Irwin.

"That's one of the things that could lead to gas sooner," he said.

Palin called Therriault's efforts "heroic" but noted that they'd been ineffective, as the budget passed over Therriault's objections mostly along caucus lines.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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