By Dan Fiorucci
Channel 2 News
5:47 PM AKDT, April 30, 2012
In Juneau, day number 13 proved to be "unlucky" for the Special Session.
It was the day that everything came crashing to an end. There was no agreement on a much talked about small-diameter natural gas pipeline.
At 5:27 P.M., The House suddenly and unexpectedly voted to adjourn. Their vote came four days after the Senate had decided to exactly the same thing -- but for different reason.
The swift end to the session 4 days and one hour after the Senate adjournment vote.. a vote that last Thursday seemed to take the wind out of the session's sails.
That Senate pulled the plug after Governor Sean Parnell had made an unexpected move of his own. Last Wednesday, the governor issued a proclamation withdrawing oil tax-reform legislation from the session.
The Senate argued that it was beyond the governor's powers to remove legislation from a special session. Some senators characterized the withdrawal as a sort of "advance veto". They claimed the governor's move violated the "separation of powers" clause of Alaska's constitution.
From that point on, the session limped along. Lawmakers met in private caucuses. Some hoped to reach a compromise on the one issue remaining before them: House Bill 9. It was a measure that would have advanced the possible construction of a small-diameter natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.
However, from the start, House Bill 9 was controversial.
Many lawmakers pointed to studies that indicated a small-diamater pipeline from the North Slope lacked economies of scale. It would cost $7-billion to build, but would deliver only 1/8th the volume gas of a large-diamater (48-inch) line.
Opponents characterized the prices that a small-diameter line threatened to impose on Alaskans as "the highest ever paid in the South Central Region of the state". They pointed to estimates that gas from such could cost $14 dollars per thousand cubic feet -- or perhaps more. Even $14 or $15 would nearly twice what people in and around Anchorage pay for Cook Inlet Natural gas right now.
But backers of the small-diameter line claimed that it was the only project from the North Slope that could be pushed along. They claimed that the long dreamed-of larger scale projects -- like a line that would take Alaska's natural gas to Alberta. Canada, or one that would take the gas to tidewater for shipment overseas, have eluded Alaskans for decades. They felt that moving forward with a small-diameter line might finally shake a larger-agreement loose.
Whoever is right, the prospect for a small diameter pipeline from the North Slope now seems dead, at least for this session.
But that is not an absolute certainty.
Governor Sean Parnell has the authority to call a new Special Session, though he must provide 30-days notice.
There are no indications that the governor will exercise that power.
Monday night, Parnell's Press Secretary issued a statement saying that the governor was disappointed at the outcome of the Special Session but that he backed the House's decision to pull the plug.
In the 13 days since the Special Session convened only one of the Governor's 3 proposed measures passed: a bill to stiffen the penalties for "Human Trafficking."
It was last Wednesday that the governor abandoned his hopes for oil tax reform this session, by withdrawing the measure.
The Senate put the final nail in the coffin by voting to adjourn.
After that, the House tried to move the bill for the small-diameter gas pipeline along. But in the end the House Majority and the Senate Bipartisan Majority couldn't find their way to a compromise. The two sides were just too far apart.
As things stand right now, these oil taxes and natural gas will have to be issues for the 28th Alaska legislature, which is scheduled to convene next January.
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