JUNEAU -- Should Alaska use earnings generated from a multibillion-dollar investment account, built off oil riches, to help fund construction of an in-state gas pipeline?
That's what House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, wants voters to decide.
He proposed a measure Monday that, if it passes the Legislature, could appear on the ballot later this year.
Chenault said this isn't an effort to "raid" the Alaska Permanent Fund. He said he wants to ensure dividends that residents draw from the more than $30 billion investment account are secured and that the fund is "inflation-proofed" prior to earnings being drawn from it.
But he said it's time for the state to start making decisions on its energy future, and he hopes the voters' answer will help focus state spending.
"Any project that we ever build is going to be a big project, and I think Alaskans should be involved with the process to some extent," Chenault said on Monday in Juneau.
He said he was unsure how the bill would be received by his fellow lawmakers, though he was particularly interested in the thoughts of members representing areas that would not directly be affected by a gas line.
With the smorgasbord of options the state has to consider for powering the Railbelt, including an in-state gas line, large-scale hydroelectric generation, geothermal and wind power, Chenault said the state needs to start working on a solution.
"We're coming to a point with Cook Inlet gas exploration that I think it's imperative that the state decides how we're going to move Alaska forward," he said.
He explained that he thinks the Legislature also needs to consider what it will do if a transcontinental gas pipeline stumbles.
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