Natural gas pipeline proposals get 2nd look

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2008

JUNEAU The head of the Senate Resource Committee said this week that he will throw the door open to energy companies looking to build a natural gas pipeline

Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said one of his first orders of business will be to find out why only one company, TransCanada, was the only company still officially in the running.

Five other energy companies bid last year for the right to build a natural gas pipeline, but Gov. Sarah Palin's administration said only TransCanada's bid met the necessary requirements of the state's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. Huggins said Alaskans need to know why bids failed and why some energy companies did not bother to bid on the project at all.

"There's not a doubt in my mind that the Legislature is, priority-wise, to move the proposal of a gas pipeline forward," Huggins said. "But not blindly."

Huggins' comments echoed those of House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, who said Tuesday there should be public hearings on ConocoPhillips' pipeline proposal.

"We want to make sure there's a fair and open competition," Harris said.

A spokesman for Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she didn't oppose having hearings on failed proposals but wondered if it was the best use of the Legislature's time.

Palin's office said lawmakers are free to educate themselves on each company's pipeline proposals, but said nothing in the selection process has changed.

"We welcome the scrutiny and look forward to a good dialogue," said Joe Balash, special assistant to the governor.

Huggins' comments came at a news conference held by the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, a coalition between some Republicans and all the chamber's Democrats. The bipartisan group controls and sets the upper body's agenda.

The Senate group may be one of the few foils to Palin, a Republican, this session. The group's chief, Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, has clashed publicly with the governor in the past.

At the news conference, Green said her only disagreements with the governor have been over policy.

And Huggins said both the administration and those in the working group needed to communicate better.

"We have communication in my estimation is less than adequate," Huggins said.

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