Alaska editorial: Legislature shouldn't rush gas line contract

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2007

The consequences of cutting the Legislature's work period to 90 days from 120 days has again come into crystal clear view.

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Gov. Sarah Palin's decision to extend by two months the deadline for companies to submit applications to build a gas pipeline from the North Slope makes it quite possible that the latter part of the shortened legislative session, which appears for the first time next year, will find legislators confronted with two enormous tasks: debating and analyzing a gas pipeline agreement and passing the state's operating and capital budgets. And who knows what else they will be called on to do or desire to do.

A member of the governor's gas line team said this week that the application extension could put a squeeze on the legislative review of whatever proposal the governor forwards them.

That's not good.

The Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, the governor's pipeline mechanism that gained legislative approval earlier this year, gives lawmakers up to 60 days to act on an application that the administration selects as the best one for the state. The governor's team will need to forward a proposal sometime in the first 30 days of the legislative session, which begins Jan. 15, if legislators are to have their full 60 days available in the regular session. If it comes in after the first 30 days, the Legislature could find itself working beyond the scheduled 90-day end of the regular session.

Or, worse, the Legislature could rush to complete the job by the time 90 days have elapsed.

Here's the gas line timeline, as spelled out in the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, and how it relates to the governor's new application deadline of Nov. 30 and the 90-day session:

• The commissioners of the Department of Revenue and the Department of Natural Resources will open the applications after the deadline has passed and determine which ones are complete. They can ask for more information from the applicants, adding more time to the process.

• At some point, unspecified by law, the commissioners will commence a 60-day public comment period on all applications they have determined to be complete.

• At the conclusion of the public comment period, the commissioners must evaluate all the complete applications, consider the public comments and rank the applications. If the commissioners select one of those applications as being best for the state, the law says they must then issue a "determination, with written findings addressing the basis for the determination," that the project warrants a license. They must publish a notice of the administration's intent to issue the license.

• The commissioners' written determination is then forwarded to the House and Senate, where it takes on the form of legislation to be considered in the usual manner. The Legislature has 60 days to act.

Add it up. The public is to have 60 days to comment. The administration needs time to issue its final determination. The Legislature has up to 60 days to conduct a review. Throw in a a few days here and there for the inevitable gaps in the process.

Let's say it all adds up to five months.

Five months from the governor's Nov. 30 application deadline puts the calendar at the end of April. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on April 15.

Oops.

Alaskans should want the Legislature to review all the applications that are deemed complete by the governor's team and not just the proposal that has the governor's blessing. The task before the Legislature, then, is much larger than many might think.

Those who succeeded in getting the public to approve the 90-day session ballot measure last year could find themselves on the hot seat yet again. What we can't have is a rushed process when it comes to the gas line.



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