Murkowski optimistic on Alaska gas piplene progress

WASHINGTON -- Alaska's proposed natural gas pipeline has the support of the White House and plenty of congressionally sponsored incentives that will grease it through the federal regulatory process, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
So now isn't the time to get sidetracked by "finger-pointing," Murkowski said, referring to an emerging rift among Gov. Sarah Palin, her colleague Sen. Mark Begich and her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Over the past week, Begich complained during a speech in Anchorage of his frustration with the project's progress on the state level, Palin fired back, and Frank Murkowski opined in a newspaper column that his successor wasted time negotiating with a pipeline company that doesn't have gas or financing instead of the oil companies that hold the gas leases and have money to build a pipeline.
"We can point fingers all day long, but is that really going to make things happen more quickly?" Sen. Murkowski said Friday.
Instead, she pointed to progress in recent days on the federal level, where as the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she has added pipeline-friendly provisions to a massive energy bill currently being debated. They include allowing the project's builders to use the federal financing bank -- money that's available at a cheap rate close to the federal government's cost of borrowing. She also increased from $18 billion to $30 billion the amount of loans the federal government will guarantee for the project.
"We're doing something here, it's good news, I think it's significant and I think it will help to facilitate the project -- whichever project it is," Murkowski said. "When you recognize the size and scope of the project we've got, anything you can do to help on the financing end is good."
Pipeline company TransCanada has the state license for the project and $500 million in state incentives to pursue the pipeline. Oil companies BP and Conoco Phillips have a competing gas line project called Denali.
Murkowski wouldn't step directly into the political fray going on in Alaska, but she did emphasize that it is her office that worked on the financing and regulatory provisions. It has not been at the behest of the governor's office or producers, Murkowski said.
With a landmark energy bill in the works in her committee, Murkowski said she couldn't sit back and wait for something to happen.
"We've got a vehicle right in front of us, an energy bill that's under way," Murkowski said. "If we were to advance an energy bill that was silent on the biggest energy project the state has seen since the Trans-Alaska pipeline ... that would be a missed opportunity."
But she also pointed out that the gas pipeline is a White House priority: In a February interview with the Daily News and other regional news outlets, President Barack Obama said he thought the project was "promising." And every time she has spoken to the president since his election, he has mentioned the pipeline and his support for it, Murkowski said. The administration is fully aware of the financing provisions she's seeking in the energy bill too, Murkowski said.
The White House's awareness of the project came up last week in Begich's speech that angered Palin. In his remarks, he said he was eager for Obama to put the project on "the national energy agenda." But he earned the ire of Palin by saying he was frustrated by the pipeline's progress. He also said that in "recent conversations with the president and his top advisers, there has been frustration expressed at the lack of progress on the Alaska gas line."
The governor's office responded with a statement saying Palin's commissioners "are disappointed that Alaska's junior senator has failed to recognize the progress that has been made on one of the largest construction projects in North America."
State revenue commissioner Pat Galvin and natural resources commissioner Tom Irwin wrote Begich a letter saying they were "surprised and dismayed" and that they thought Begich was "uninformed about the current situation in Alaska regarding this project."
Palin's deputies also pointed out that they believe that, as a result of her Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA), two competing projects are spending money on pipeline design and engineering. The state also is preparing for a true test of the project's viability: an "open season" next year, when oil companies will decide whether to pledge to ship gas in the proposed pipeline.
Ultimately, Murkowski said, she has been and remains "more than a little bit anxious about how our project is coming along, because we've got a window of opportunity for our gas, and I don't want to be left out of the energy mix that is going on in the Lower 48."

By:  Erika Bolstad
Source: NEWS: She points to progress on the federal level, including obama's interest.