This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
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There's word going round that Gov. Frank Murkowski might do the unthinkable with the draft agreement for a North Slope natural gas pipeline. What he might do, a number of legislators believe, is sign the draft pipeline agreement with BP, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips without waiting for legislative ratification. Or he might do it if the Legislature gives an outright rejection.
What once was discussed as one of the many "what ifs" that surround most any political conversation has actually gained a level of credence and alarm. Some people think the governor might actually do it.
It would be an outrage. The public wouldn't stand for it. And nor should it.
The governor's spokesman, John Manly, last week dismissed the scenario as "a whole lot of paranoia" and said there is "a lot of unnecessary distrust." The governor, says Mr. Manly, "has said numerous times he is going to follow the law."
The question, though, is whether the law unduly impinges on a governor's authority and, if it does, whether Gov. Murkowski will see that as an opportunity to sign the gas line agreement regardless of the Legislature's intentions.
To disregard the Legislature's work and sign an agreement without the ratification of lawmakers would be to say that the entire legislative process to date has been a sham. Why allow the process to unfold, as it has for many months now, if the intent is to ignore the outcome it might produce?
The concern is real enough for some legislators. Two of them, Anchorage Reps. Lesil McGuire and Max Gruenberg - the first a Republican and the second a Democrat - are seeking approval of a constitutional amendment that would require legislative approval of natural gas contracts in excess of $1 billion. Existing law, the two legislators say, could allow a governor to sign such agreements without legislative concurrence. That may be the case, but the Stranded Gas Development Act that the pipeline agreement was submitted under lays out a process that calls for the Legislature to give authority to the governor to sign a pipeline agreement. And that is the law under which this entire gas pipeline process has been carried out to date.
Whether the proposed constitutional amendment is the right way to go to resolve this legal conundrum is debatable. A legislative resolution to put an amendment on the November ballot will get a hearing when the special session resumes this week, so Alaskans will soon get a better idea of its merits and its implications.
But the existence of this troubling scenario - that the governor might go it alone and stiff the Legislature on the gas pipeline agreement - is another distraction that the movement toward a pipeline doesn't need.
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