House passes bill to constrain Walker’s gasline plan

The Alaska House has fired its latest salvo at Gov. Bill Walker in an ongoing dispute over a gasline. The body passed a bill to keep him from pursuing an alternative to the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project on Monday, ignoring a veto threat from the governor. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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At the most basic level, the fight is about how to deal with the oil and gas industry. On one side, you have the House Majority, led by Speaker Mike Chenault, who emphasize partnership as a way to get a gasline built from the North Slope to tidewater. And on the other, you have the governor and the Democratic minority, who take a more oppositional tack with the producers.

Rep. Craig Johnson, an Anchorage Republican, said as much on the House floor on Monday night, when advocating for the Speaker’s bill.

“We can send a very clear message to our partners that we are their partners, and we’re not their opponents — that we together can get this done,” said Johnson.

Johnson likened the bill to putting the “genie back in the bottle.” The legislation blocks Gov. Bill Walker from taking a smaller contingency project — known as the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline, or ASAP — and scaling it up so it could be a direct substitute for the large-diameter Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project.

Republican leadership worry the proposal could jeopardize the work that is being on AKLNG. But Walker, along with Democrats in the House, think the plan could serve as a bargaining chip.

Rep. David Guttenberg of Fairbanks said it would increase the state’s negotiating power, and put the state in a better position if negotiations with industry fall apart.

“By having a fall-back, quasi-competing project that’s in place, if AKLNG fails — if somebody pulls out, if it’s not economical — then we’ll have something real in place. Not something we know that is not enough volume,” said Guttenberg.

The bill ultimately passed 24 to 14, with Republicans Paul Seaton and Jim Colver joining the Democratic Minority. Colver, whose district includes the Richardson Highway, offered two unsuccessful amendments to route a gasline through that corridor. In an unusual move, Democrats offered no amendments. Anchorage Republican Bob Lynn and Ketchikan Independent Dan Ortiz were excused from the vote.

The governor has already announced he would veto the bill if it makes it to his desk, calling it “un-Alaskan” in a February press conference. Overriding a veto requires an affirmative vote from at least 40 of the Legislature’s 60 members. Leadership of the Senate’s 15-member majority has signaled support for the House bill.