The Alaska Senate has passed legislation aimed at advancing a major liquefied natural gas project, over nagging concerns about the role of TransCanada Corp.
The vote was 15-5. Republican Sen. Bert Stedman joined minority Democrats Hollis French, Bill Wielechowski, Johnny Ellis and Berta Gardner in voting against.
Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash had hoped for a resounding vote, as a message to the other project partners and markets about Alaska's resolve to get a project moving.
Several amendments failed to pass, including one from Senate Minority Leader Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage) which would have cut ties with TransCanada. The firm is one of four, along with ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips, with which the state would partner for the deal.
"If I were to give this a title," French said, "it would be D-I-V-O-R-C-E."
While critics say the state should have some ownership of the line, supporters say it's too much of a financial risk.
"I'm OK with all-in, but all in is 65 billion dollars and a lot of uncertainty," said Sen. Anna Fairclough (R-Eagle River). "When we talk about 40 percent on 25 percent, let's talk about for every dollar Alaska invests, producers will invest a dollar."
Gas line proponents say the only way energy partners will buy into the project is if terms of the current legislation remain intact. Critics say the current bill gives too much of Alaska's resources away to big energy companies.
"There is a possibility of a reconciliation and maybe renewed vows on slightly different terms," said Sen. Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage). "But I think that it's true, that our partnership with them for this project destabilizes the alignment."
SB138 sets a gas tax rate that, combined with royalty, would give Alaska roughly a 25 percent equity share in the project, according to Balash.
While many lawmakers say they want a project, some expressed concerns with the role of TransCanada, which would hold the state's interest in a pipeline and gas treatment plant.
Channel 2's Adam Pinsker contributed information to this story.