Session back in Juneau July 9

Legislators to consider energy relief along with natural gas pipeline

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Alaska Legislature expects to take up energy relief payments soon after returning to Juneau following the Fourth of July holiday, say legislative leaders.

Gov. Sarah Palin will call the Legislature into the summer's second special session on July 9, spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Monday.

Palin has proposed paying each Alaskan who has lived in the state for at least six months $1,200, as well as suspending the state gas tax for a year, to help residents cope with high energy prices.

Palin met with legislative leaders Tuesday to discuss expanding the call from considering issuing an Alaska Gasline Inducement Act license for a TransCanada Corp. natural gas pipeline to also include the energy rebates.

"Both the governor and the legislative leadership agreed the sooner the better," Leighow said.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said he didn't expect discussion of the energy relief to take time away from discussing gas pipeline issues.

"If it's just a simple vote on $1,200, it should take very little time," Harris said.

Leighow said a plan to subsidize electric rates through grants to utilities is still under consideration, but is not now part of the proposal the Legislature will be asked to consider.

The Senate leadership supports the July 9 date, said Jeff Turner, spokesman for Sen. President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, and the Senate majority caucus.

House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she'd rather not combine the two issues.

"If it was my preference, we'd do it separately," she said.

"In the best of all worlds we'd finish AGIA and then take up the energy special session and not mix the two," Kerttula said.

The Legislature has until Aug. 2 to approve Palin's request to issue a gas pipeline license to TransCanada to begin work on a long-awaited natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.

TransCanada proposed building a pipeline overland, following the route of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the Alaska highway, to carry gas to markets in the U.S. Midwest.

That license would require TransCanada to develop a pipeline designed to encourage additional exploration of Alaska's vast North Slope gas resources, in exchange for a $500 million subsidy from the state.

In response, two of Alaska's big North Slope oil producers, ConocoPhillips Co. and BP, proposed their own pipeline.

Several legislators said they believe the TransCanada license has enough votes to pass, and Harris said discussing both issues would not present problems.

Harris said he expects the House to have a vote on TransCanada by July 15.

Leighow said the governor is willing to amend her energy relief plan if legislators want to make changes.

"I'd like to stress that Gov. Palin said she is looking forward to working with lawmakers on this issue and hearing their ideas," she said.

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