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What does the governor have in mind for special session? He's not communicating - and not advancing the gas line

  • Author: Mike Chenault
  • Updated: July 7, 2016
  • Published October 3, 2015

More than a week after the governor announced his special session in Juneau on natural gas issues, we in the Legislature are still waiting on his details and plan.

Does the governor intend to debut his bills once the gavel falls? I'm disappointed in his lack of communication. We haven't received consistent, clear, direct communications on his gas pipeline plans.

What's going on? How did we get here? Here, being, having to prepare to go to Juneau later this month to debate whether or not to buyout our pipeline agent, TransCanada, to the tune of $100 million, and whether to institute a reserves tax on lease-held North Slope natural gas.

When the governor took office 10 months ago, he inherited systems and projects that were progressing well toward a fall 2015 special session to examine fiscal terms and make additional investment decisions. We had all parties working toward the common goal, the Alaska LNG Project, within a legislative framework, SB 138, that passed overwhelmingly.

All the governor had to do was simply let the course play out and keep all parties focused on meeting the statutory deadlines for fiscal terms like the state's decision to either accept its payment in gas or in revenues, how to figure out property taxes, and whether to go to voters to amend the state Constitution to provide fiscal certainty on gas taxes for our partners. He also had to provide a list of off-take points where gas could be routed to Alaskans to heat our homes, schools, hospitals and businesses.

Instead, since taking office, the governor has shown us his unwillingness to work with our partners, and summarily try to undo all the progress made under the bipartisan compromise gas line laws. He fired three members of the board of the state's gas line agency, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. He's now changed lead negotiators three times, the latest being a $120,000 per month Outside consultant. He's failed to deliver on any of his statutorily mandated deadlines listed above. He's changed course on AGDC's Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project, trying to position it to directly compete with the Alaska LNG Project. He's caused further delay to the gas line by asking for a larger-diameter pipe, from 42 inches to 48 inches, which will increase the project's cost and lead to delays as our partners must approve as well.

Now, he's resurrecting a decade-old idea to try and tax the project into existence: reinstituting a reserves tax on natural gas that voters rejected by a 2 to 1 margin in 2006, and was floated as a bill by his current chief of staff and partner in the failed Alaska Gasline Port Authority, Jim Whittaker.

We've gone from steady progress and diligent work to advance a critical project, to uncertainty, ambiguity, lack of communication and facing another year without a vote to advance the pipeline process to its next stage.

I sincerely hope the governor makes the effort to better communicate and work with our partners and the Legislature as we prepare to head to Juneau to make these extremely costly and critical decisions for our state's future. We need as much time as possible to vet the governor's plan with our consultants and fellow legislators.

Rep. Mike Chenault is speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives. He has served in the Legislature since 2001.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

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