TransCanada passes key vote in Senate

Special Energy Committee approves contract 7-5, sending bill to full body

Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2008

With time running out for the Alaska Legislature to get a TransCanada Corp. natural gas pipeline, a Senate committee finally took action on the proposal late Wednesday, approving the contract 7-5.

The Senate's Special Energy Committee, made up of members of the Senate's Finance and Resources committees also includes most of the Legislature's TransCanada opponents.

They included Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, Resources Committee Chairman Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, Finance Committee Co-chairmen Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. All voted against the approval, as did Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage.

Voting for the bill were Sens. Kim Elton, D-Juneau; Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak; Donny Olson, D-Nome; Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River; Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage; Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai; and Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks.

Elton had earlier predicted that if the license for TransCanada under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act made it out of the committee, it would pass the full Senate.

That would give Gov. Sarah Palin the victory she's been working toward since being elected governor nearly two years ago.

The House of Representatives approved the company's license by a 24-16 vote last week, but the Senate committee did not take up the bill until Wednesday. The Alaska Gasline Inducement Act gives the Legislature until midnight Saturday to approve the deal.

Some top Senate leaders were balking, however, and it took until late Wednesday for the first vote on the bill.

Huggins, who chaired the special Senate Energy Committee, finally brought the bill before the committee at 8:50 p.m. Wednesday.

Dyson warned that time was getting short.

"I've got panic alarms going off inside of me," he said.

It may take a day each to send the bill approving the license to the floor, have two readings and possible reconsideration.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, earlier said the Senate leadership was engaged in a "filibuster." That's the process used in the U.S. Senate under which a minority can kill a bill with majority support by talking endlessly and preventing a vote.

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, noted that the Senate's leaders denied they were stalling. "But if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and talks like a duck ... "

Huggins denied the Senate was drawing the process out and said he was not trying to plant a poison pill in the process.

Senate opponents of the TransCanada pipeline continued to bring up issues that had been extensively reviewed in two months of hearings.

One of those issues, which also was raised by an oil company with a competing pipeline proposal, is concern that a former project involving TransCanada could have liabilities that could hurt Alaska.

McGuire urged an amendment to require additional indemnification for the state.

Tony Palmer, TransCanada's vice president for Alaska development, said such indemnification was already in the bill.

"If there is no problem with indemnifying the state, why don't we say it clearly," McGuire said.

Elton objected to McGuire's last-minute amendment, saying the issue had been thoroughly examined and was unnecessary.

"This is a very unusual kind of requirement, given the past practices we've had in the oil patch," Elton said.

Palin's administration has warned that amending the AGIA bill, passed 59-1 last year, would likely derail the entire TransCanada deal.

"We put the entire license at stake by approving this," Wielechowski said.

Huggins offered to delay the meeting until Thursday to give time for review of McGuire's amendment.

"I didn't ask for that," Wagoner said.

"Neither did I," Elton said.

McGuire withdrew her proposed indemnity amendment, but said she was likely to bring it back when the bill reaches the full Senate on the floor.

McGuire also proposed delaying the approval, and requiring mediation between TransCanada and its competitors.

She said the path the state was heading down "could lead to complete disaster."

She withdrew that amendment as well.

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



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