Lawmakers put some gas-line provisions in federal energy bill

Posted: Friday, September 13, 2002

FAIRBANKS - Congressional negotiators approved some Alaska provisions for the federal energy bill, but natural gas line tax credits and Arctic refuge oil development remained unresolved.

A joint House-Senate conference committee adopted language that would:

• Limit a proposed gas line to a southern route along the Alaska Highway.

• Streamline the approval process for Alaska natural gas line permits and limit lawsuits over the permits.

• Ensure that gas producers who don't own a portion of the line are allowed to put their gas in it.

• Authorize money for a training program for Alaskans who want to work on the line.

• Authorize money for electric development and rate assistance in Alaska.

The committee rejected an amendment by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., that would have required builders of a natural gas line to sign a project labor agreement with unions.

The conference committee is trying to merge the two differing energy policy bills passed earlier by the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate.

The conference chairman, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., moved rapidly through a number of the non-controversial items, including the Alaska provisions, Thursday morning.

The permit streamlining provision gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission an 18-month deadline to finish an environmental impact statement once it receives an application.

The provision also establishes a federal coordinator to oversee all federal agencies. And it says any court cases must be filed and decided within certain deadlines.

The Alaska pipeline work training program, authorized at up to $20 million, was added to the Senate bill by Sens. Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, in March.

The Senate in March also authorized a major electric development program for rural communities, at the request of Murkowski and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. The conference committee agreed to a modified version. It authorized $45 million for the Denali Commission to help the state of Alaska's power cost equalization program in rural villages. It also authorized an unlimited amount of money for electric development across the country in places with power costs greater than 150 percent of the national average, a provision that will mostly help rural Alaska.

Murkowski, in a brief interview after the morning session, said the tax credits he proposed for the gas line would come up later in a conference committee with slightly different membership.

As tax items, they are in the jurisdiction of congressional finance committees, he said. The members meeting Thursday morning were from the energy committees.

The gas line tax credits and the question of developing ANWR, both controversial, would likely be among the last things the conferees decide, Murkowski said.

Whether the committee will finish a bill remains to be seen. Congress is expected to adjourn in early October so members can return to their districts to campaign, but it has passed none of the 13 annual appropriations bills. Several other major national bills remain unresolved as well.

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