Alaska Bill Would Limit Lawsuits on Pipeline

Committees in both the Alaska House and Senate will hear bills today designed to bar a court from delaying legislative review of a proposed $20 billion gas pipeline from Alaska to Canada.

The Alaska Revenue commissioner must first make an official finding and determination that the contract is in line with the Stranded Gas Development Act and is in the long-term fiscal interest of the state. The pieces of legislation would keep the findings of the commissioner from being delayed or stayed by any court.

State Senate Judiciary Chairman Ralph Seekins (R), whose committee is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill, said the intent is to make sure the Legislature has the final say in executing a contract and that lawmakers' authority is not held up by a lawsuit.

"I've got this little toy train set at home. It runs all around our room. We don't put the caboose between the engine and the coal car," Seekins said. "We're trying to make sure the judicial challenge is at the end of the train."

Some characterized the measures as a means to circumvent the third branch of government. "The checks and balances of the law are integral to good government and good decisions by government. To eliminate one of those checks and balances specifically to circumvent the law is egregious," said Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker (R), who participated in a rewrite of the Stranded Gas Development Act as a legislator in 2003 (Matt Volz, AP/Anchorage Daily News, April 19).

The pipeline would carry natural gas from the North Slope to the contiguous United States. The pipeline would parallel the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System from Prudhoe Bay and then the Alaska Highway to the Yukon border, following the road through Canada to the Alberta hub where it would meet up with pipes headed to U.S. markets farther south. The pipeline is projected to carry 4 billion cubic feet gas per day from Alaska's North Slope to Chicago. The project -- to be run by Exxon Mobil, BP and ConocoPhillips -- would be one of the largest civil-engineering projects ever (Greenwire, April 7).

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