Alaska editorial: Lawmakers will have little time for informed natural gas line choice

Posted: Friday, April 04, 2008

This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Let's take a look at the calendar. Gov. Sarah Palin announced last week that her administration will make public its decision about TransCanada's North Slope gas pipeline proposal the week of May 19.

She also announced last week that she will be calling the Legislature into special session beginning June 3 to discuss the gas line. Presumably, the topic will be the issuing of an exclusive pipeline license to TransCanada, though the governor has said no decision has been made.

The announcement of an intent to issue a license to TransCanada, if that's what the decision ultimately is, would trigger a 60-day window for the Legislature to review the request and sanction the license.

A full two weeks of that 60-day period could potentially be lost, however, from the announcement of the decision to the commencement of the special session on June 3. The administration doesn't even plan to hold briefings for legislators until the end of May.

That's the possible loss of 25 percent of the 60-day period for legislative action.

Legislators should not allow the time to be lost. If they are called upon to approve a license to TransCanada for the North Slope natural gas pipeline, they need to ensure they don't waste those two weeks before the session starts.

Gov. Palin, in her announcement last week, noted the complexity involved in analyzing the TransCanada proposal:

"The gas line team faces a truly monumental effort in comprehensively analyzing TransCanada's application, considering the public comments received and reviewing the all-Alaska LNG options for comparison purposes," she said.

It's entirely reasonable, therefore, to expect the task will be even harder for the Legislature, which does not have a gas line team whose purpose is to focus on this project.

And yet it is the Legislature that must uncover the flaws, if there are any, in a TransCanada proposal that carries with it the high-stakes hopes of the governor and the future of this state.

The TransCanada proposal, if forwarded by Gov. Palin, will land squarely in the lap of the state's 60 legislators. If they approve a proposal that ultimately turns out to be flawed, they will share the blame. If, however, they fully examine the proposal and it eventually does bring Alaska a natural gas pipeline and the jobs and the millions of dollars that will come with it, then they will share the glory with the governor.

Legislators will need to get it right - through their own research and not by placing trust in the governor. This isn't to say the governor is not to be trusted in this matter. Rather, it is simply the responsible course of action in a system of government built upon checks and balances.

Legislators won't have much time. That's unfortunate. So they had better be prepared to use wisely what little time they will have.

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