Sen. Olson looking at options for Alaska pipeline bill

AP Photo/Michael Penn/The Juneau Empire

JUNEAU (AP) — A bill to help Alaskans deal with high energy costs failed during the regular session, but a Nome senator is raising the possibility of reviving the proposed energy voucher program.

Democratic Sen. Donny Olson, chairman of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee, said April 24 that he’s looking at adding provisions, like vouchers, to HB9, an in-state natural gas pipeline bill. The idea, he said, is to try to help both rural and urban Alaskans in their needs.

While a pipeline is intended to help people in Alaska’s most populous region, Olson said those in rural areas are suffering with higher energy costs and need help, too. He said he’s looking at the options available to try to provide aid, including vouchers, which he called a “strong possibility.”

HB9 is one of two issues left on the special session call and has had one hearing since the special session started last Wednesday.

Supporters of HB9 say the bill is meant to further empower the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, in its effort to advance a small-diameter pipeline that would run from the North Slope to south-central Alaska and provide gas for Alaskans. Critics say it gives AGDC too much authority, and they say there are other alternatives for providing gas to Alaskans that could be cheaper.

Olson said there aren’t the votes in his committee to advance HB9 as it passed the House. His committee unveiled a pared-down version of HB9 near the end of the regular session, but it drew criticism from the bill’s main sponsors, Reps. Mike Chenault and Mike Hawker. Chenault, R-Nikiski, for example, said the rewrite “neutered” the ability of AGDC to advance a project and reinserts politics into efforts to bring a gas line to fruition.

Hawker, R-Anchorage, said that Olson’s comments were “completely new to me.”

He said he understands how things work at the Capitol and that there’s “often a need to accommodate the provincial interests of powerful legislators to move forward policy that’s good for the whole state.”

He said he and Chenault have committed to make staff available to work with Olson’s staff on HB9, and that he doesn’t understand the resistance to the bill.

“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to get before the committee and hopefully present our case,” he said.

04/26/2012 - 7:40am