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House speaker opposes rewrite of in-state pipeline bill

Becky Bohrer

JUNEAU — House Speaker Mike Chenault on Friday opposed a rewritten version of his bill to advance an in-state natural gas pipeline project.

Chenault told the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee that its rewrite of HB9 "neutered" the ability of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, to advance a project. And he said it reinserts politics into efforts to bring a gas line to fruition.

Earlier this week, Gov. Sean Parnell called on the Senate to pass some version of the bill, saying legislative inaction would set back efforts to try to bring a gas line project to fruition. At the very minimum, he said the Legislature should provide AGDC with adequate funding to continue its work and pass a bill that would allow the corporation to enter into confidentiality agreements to share information. But he said there are other parts of the bill where he thinks there's room for agreement — and that the bill should be larger than just the bare minimum he considers necessary.

Parnell said he would like to see $71 million in funding for AGDC, $50 million of that coming from the $200 million that lawmakers last year set aside for in-state gas work.

The bill is one of the big, unresolved issues with the Legislature's scheduled adjournment on Sunday looming. Others include the budget bills and oil taxes, which the Senate majority is trying to find enough votes on its side to pass.

There really wasn't anything that Chenault and Rep. Mike Hawker indicated they liked about the new version of HB9, which was introduced by an aide to committee chair Donny Olson as the "bare minimum" to get AGDC to an open season, or the process in which it would court producers and pursue shipping agreements.

Hawker challenged that, saying it fell "well below" the minimums necessary.

The bill would, among other things, allow for confidentiality of information related to the "particulars" of the business or affairs of a private enterprise, an investor or a person entering into a contract with AGDC. It removes the authorization for AGDC to issue bonds and incur debt, and requires legislative approval prior to construction of any line — a provision that House Democrats tried unsuccessfully to add to the bill prior to House passage last month.

Chenault said that neither his nor Hawker's office were involved in helping draft the new version.

After Chenault and Hawker voiced their displeasure with it, the bill was held.

The committee is the first of three that the bill has been assigned to on the Senate side.


By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press