Wall Street Journal misses mark when it comes to gas line

Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Now the Wall Street Journal has swallowed whole the spurious arguments against an Alaska Highway gas pipeline put forth by a team of critics.

An editorial in the Thursday edition of the Journal said the pipeline measure written into the national energy bill by the House-Senate conference committee is a reason President Bush should veto the bill.

Two gas line critics wrote a similarly skewed article recently for the Los Angeles Times. Though not mentioned by the Journal, the two writers of the earlier piece were Jerry Taylor, director of natural resources studies for the Cato Institute, and Roger Berliner, a Washington lawyer who once served as legislative director for Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, an Ohio Democrat who told fairy tales about Alaska for many years.

The Journal editorial suggests that the gas pipeline language could take $30 billion from taxpayer pockets, ''$20 billion in subsidies and another $10 billion in loan guarantees.''

Actually the claim is blatantly false. The two measures are tax breaks that would apply if natural gas prices fell far enough to make the project uneconomic. That would protect the pipeline investors by reducing the line's tax burden if gas prices should tank.

Since the line might never be built without such protection, the taxpayers stand to lose nothing. If the line isn't built, they would get nothing from the project. If it is built -- and thoughtfully applied tax incentives would help enormously -- the nation would gain an important new energy source, thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenues.

The Journal also touts the so-called merits of building the gas line beneath the Beaufort Sea to the Mackenzie Delta, where it would pick up stranded gas in the Canadian Arctic. The newspaper is attracted to that route because it would be shorter than an Alaska Highway route.

But it ignores the difficulty -- if not the impossibility -- of resolving environmental objections to an offshore route and the difficult engineering and construction problems of building a subsea line in such a remote and ice-choked environment. Such a line could be much more expensive than building along an established highway route.

And the Beaufort route would run through a whale migration area below ice frequented by polar bears, seals and other wildlife. That alone could result in years of expensive delay that might undermine the viability of the project.

The Wall Street Journal dismisses the gas pipeline measure as pork.

In a pig's ear.

The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times

Sept. 22

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