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Coghill: Passing in-state gas line legislation this session would be tough

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Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 1:35 pm, Thu Mar 28, 2013.

JUNEAU — With the end of the session looming, Sen. John Coghill said passing legislation to continue state work on the in-state natural gas pipeline before April 14 will be difficult.

House Bill 4, which is co-sponsored by House Speaker Mike Chenault, is nearing the end of a lengthy review in committees, putting it on a timeline that will give the Senate less than two weeks to review the broad legislation before it’s scheduled to gavel out.

“That’s going to be very difficult,” Coghill said, adding the bill likely would get referrals to the Senate Resources and Finance committees. “Each one of them, if they had it for less than a week, I would say that it would be hard to do due diligence on it.”

Coghill, and most of the Interior delegation, have supported Chenault and Anchorage Rep. Mike Hawker’s legislation to advance a state-backed pipeline even as the Interior pursues its own gas project.

House Bill 4 would grant sweeping powers to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to continue work to advance the pipeline to an open season needed to gauge market interest. The pipeline would run from the North Slope to Southcentral, has a roughly $7 billion price tag and wouldn’t start delivering gas until the end of the decade.

The bill comes with a roughly $350 million price tag for this fiscal year.

The project has drawn criticism from some for its high costs and for delivering gas to Anchorage at a price that’s higher than residents currently are paying.

Some of those criticisms were aired in the House Finance Committee public hearing Tuesday afternoon.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, represented by Assemblyman John Davies, supported HB 4. The committee likely will hear today from the city of Valdez, which has run an ad campaign against the legislation.

Committee Co-Chair Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said the bill could be ready to leave his committee by the end of this week, which would set it up for a vote on the floor mid next week.

Despite its slow movement, Chenault has said HB 4 should be a top priority for the Legislature and it’s necessary to continue to work and any delay will mean a delay in the final delivery of gas.

“A lot can happen in three weeks,” he said during a press conference last week. “The other body, they’re ready for House Bill 4. It’s a complex bill ... but most members of the body have heard it or heard a bill similar to it.”

Coghill agreed the Legislature can move quickly in the last few weeks.

“Chances are what you’re going to see is both bodies of the Legislature won’t be taking up their own legislation. We’ll be taking up the House bills, and they’ll be taking up the Senate bills,” he said. “The work can ramp up, but it’s going to be tight.”  

When asked if the Legislature could return for a special session to tackle HB 4, Coghill said it’s possible, but he didn’t want to bank on it.

“I’ve been here a good number of years and have been in special sessions more often than not and have never done it on purpose,” he said. “At this point, let’s not plan on it. Let’s try to get our work done.”

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 and follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

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