Parnell addresses subsistence, gas pipeline, scholarships

Governor speaks to Juneau Bar Association, legal issues come up briefly

Posted: Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gov. Sean Parnell spoke to the Juneau Bar Association on Friday, and though a lawyer himself, the audience's questions were only occasionally about the law.

Even the question from Chief Justice Walter "Bud" Carpeneti of the Alaska Supreme Court was about progress of the gas pipeline. Another question was about Parnell's recently proposed Governor's Performance Scholarships for Alaska high school students.

One question about a legal issue came from Katherine Eldemar of Sealaska regarding subsistence rights. Sealaska Chairman Albert Kookesh is fighting state charges of overfishing and is highlighting the subsistence issue.

Parnell acknowledged there "are huge allocation issues where people need to get food."

Parnell said he could not comment on details of the Kookesh investigation. Kookesh is also a Democratic state senator from Angoon.

As governor, Parnell said he'd uphold the rule of law.

"I will uphold the laws of the state, but I will also work to ensure there is a reasonable allocation of the state's resources," he said.

Parnell also said he was optimistic about the progress the state is making on getting a natural gas pipeline, which would allow Alaska to tap its vast reserves of North Slope natural gas.

"I'm really upbeat about it," he said.

A number of important milestone have passed already, but the key ones such as an open season and project sanction are forthcoming.

"Two and a half years ago the project had high-centered, there was no movement," he said. Since then, the Alaska Legislature has approved the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, a state license has been awarded to TransCanada Corp., and the world's largest company has joined TransCanada's effort.

At the same time, two other companies, ConocoPhillips Co. and BP PLC, have begun their own pipeline project.

The most important step to get the pipeline built is when the boards of directors of the companies developing the pipeline "sanction" the project, or vote to go ahead with construction and begin buying pipe.

That's expected to be four to five years away, Parnell said.

In 2010, another important event will happen: The two projects' "open seasons," where companies with gas to ship through the pipeline offer that gas to the pipeline company or companies with a shipping price.

"That's a time when producers of gas lay their cards on the table," Parnell said.

With two competing pipeline projects separately taking significant steps forward, Parnell said he's been encouraging them to work together.

"They need to bring these projects together," he said.

The companies have yet to say what they need to bring the two proposals together, he said.

Parnell also further explained his new scholarship proposal, which would cover up to 100 percent of tuition for students with good grades and who take more rigorous classes.

"I'm asking kids to achieve more, I'm asking kids to push themselves harder than just the minimal graduation requirements," he said.

The proposed scholarships could also be used for in-state college or job training.

The goal isn't just for the kids, but to provide a trained workforce for Alaskan employers, he said.

"It's to prepare a better workforce for the years ahead," he said.

Providing a better education will provide years of benefit for the state's economy, Parnell said.

"These kids who are dropping out of school are going to be here anyway, and I want to provide an incentive to be better prepared, and then they can move on into the job world," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250.

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