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Legislature passes in-state gas pipeline bill

Posted: April 13, 2013 - 8:14pm  |  Updated: April 13, 2013 - 8:16pm

JUNEAU — A bill aimed at advancing an in-state natural gas pipeline project passed the Alaska Legislature on Saturday.

The House voted 34-4 to agree to changes made in the Senate and supported by the bill’s sponsors, Reps. Mike Hawker and Mike Chenault. Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, was among those who voted no.

She said she believes the project should still be brought back to the Legislature for a final say, a proposal minority Democrats unsuccessfully sought to graft onto the bill. Supporters of HB4 say passage of the bill is essentially legislative sanctioning.

Supporters hailed Saturday’s passage as monumental. They say the bill will give the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, the tools necessary to get a project to an open season. At that point, AGDC will know whether there is sufficient interest for a project to move forward. An open season could be held as early as next year.

A version of the bill died last year when the Senate adjourned a special session without passing it.

Both Hawker and Chenault, the House speaker for whom HB4 is a priority, were in the Senate gallery when it passed that body late Friday on a 15-5 vote. Voting no were Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, who is part of the majority, and minority Sens. Johnny Ellis, Hollis French, Berta Gardner and Bill Wielechowski, all Anchorage Democrats.

Concerns were raised about the rates consumers might end up paying if a line, indeed, gets built. Hawker, R-Anchorage, said AGDC will be obligated to pursue gas delivery at the lowest possible price.

Critics also said they understood wanting to get natural gas to Alaskans but argued HB4 was too far-reaching and had too-little oversight. Some argued, too, that a major liquefied natural gas project capable of overseas exports that is being pursued by BP, Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and TransCanada Corp. would better serve the state. The city of Valdez launched a PR campaign against HB4 to help make that point. The city issued a statement Friday night, saying it was “saddened and disappointed” by the bill’s passage.

“While the City still has many of the same concerns we raised during the debate, we also recognize that the Legislature has now made its decision and we respect their collective judgment,” the statement read in part.

Minority Democrats led eight failed attempts to amend the bill, including to remove a provision that would limit judicial review and give the Legislature a final say on any project before it’s built.

Wielechowski said legislators have no idea how the project might evolve and should be able to block it if it turns out not to be in Alaska’s best interest. Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, who carried the bill on the floor, said legislators would be sanctioning the project with passage of the bill. She said reinserting themselves into the process later would be a step backward.

“It’s about time we get Alaskans their gas,” said McGuire, who was among the lawmakers who also referred to the bill as a legacy.

French said he was worried about a lack of protections for Alaskans and that they would get stuck with high rates.

“If you don’t demand just and reasonable rates, what kind do you think you’ll get?” he asked.

The bill is no guarantee a line will be built. AGDC has estimated the project cost at $7.7 billion, with an uncertainty range of plus or minus 30 percent. An open season could be held as early as mid-2014.

Gov. Sean Parnell supports the bill, his spokeswoman said.

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