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House rebuffs TransCanada opponents

Lawmakers to vote on gas line bill today, after attempts to derail Palin's plans fail

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The state House of Representatives will take a vote today on a natural gas pipeline bill, after more than 40 days of hearings and debate.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

A House committee rejected several measures Monday that might have derailed the approval of TransCanada's pipeline plan under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.

The opponents were "grasping at straws," Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, later said.

Gov. Sarah Palin warned Monday that attempts to derail the license continued, identifying its opponents as those running the "full-page ads."

Recent full-page advertisements include former Gov. Wally Hickel's opposition to AGIA and promotion of an all-Alaska gas line, and ConocoPhilips and BP's promotion of their own Denali pipeline.

The House Rules Committee rejected several attempts to amend the bill that would award an AGIA license to TransCanada, before sending the bill to the floor for a vote by the full House. The committee is comprised of top House leaders, including Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, and Majority Leader Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, along with Kerttula, the body's minority leader.

Samuels was joined by Reps. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, and Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, in attempting to modify the TransCanada license, but their amendments failed by votes of 4-3 or more, despite the committee's 5-2 Republican majority.

The proposed amendments involved requiring a settlement of the disputed Point Thomson oil and gas field issue before TransCanada could get its reimbursement, indemnifying the state against liability they say TransCanada may owe on a different project, and eliminating some of the exclusivity TransCanada is getting.

Johnson said the Point Thomson amendment would force the Palin administration to resolve that issue and make its gas available for a pipeline.

"This will light a fire, and I think that needs to happen," Johnson said.

Fairclough, R-Eagle River, publicly denied trying to derail the process with amendments.

"I'm not trying to derail or delay anything," she said.

The AGIA bill passed nearly unanimously by the Legislature last year requires the Legislature to approve the license within 60 days, but doesn't allow it to be changed.

Committee Chairman John Coghill, R-North Pole, warned that while technically the AGIA license bill could be amended, that would probably result in its rejection.

Coghill acknowledged that Point Thomson's gas was important, but said meddling in the ongoing legal action would not help.

"Stepping in the middle of it is awkward," he said.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin, among several top administration officials gathered to watch the proceedings, later praised the committee's rejection of repeated attempts at changing the bill. He called the amendments "terribly problematic."

Department of Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin said the indemnification sought by Samuels wasn't needed because TransCanada's application for the license obligated it to not include any such costs in pipeline tariffs.

"TransCanada has already indemnified us," Galvin said.

The opponents also brought up a new issue limiting the state's ability to issue right-of-way approvals, an issue they did not raise in days of hearings by administration officials.

With passage by the Rules Committee on Monday, the bill appears headed for passage by the full House this week. Several top Republican leaders have indicated they'll oppose the license, but many of their members seem ready to back Republican Gov. Palin on the issue.

Meanwhile, Kerttula's Democrats appear poised to back the popular governor as well.

"Now we're on the right track," Kerttula said. "Hopefully, we'll get it passed and on to the Senate."

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

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