- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has proposed a bill that would have a federal official help Alaska with a major project to export liquefied natural gas overseas.

The bill would allow the federal coordinator for Alaska’s gas-pipeline projects to work on the effort to build an 800-mile pipeline that would deliver liquefied natural gas for overseas export. Alaska is weighing an equity stake in the project alongside pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. and the BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp. Those oil companies have major operations on the North Slope.

The bill would amend a 2004 federal law that focused on an Alaska gas line project that would serve North America only. The project’s focus changed a few years ago because of changes in the market for natural gas.

The bill would keep in place deadlines for completing environmental reviews and allow for federal grants to the Alaska Workforce Investment Board to train and recruit state residents to work on the project.

The bill also calls for speeding up the process of getting permits to allow exports to Japan, nations that belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other countries for which exports would be deemed as promoting U.S. national security interests.

Begich said he considers that provision important, with the potential to pique interest among his colleagues in the Senate, given the current political turmoil in Ukraine. Russia has a stranglehold on some of those countries with regard to fuel, he said.

“In a lot of cases, these countries have become allies or at least have Western interests now, and we should consider that as a way to expedite projects when necessary,” the Alaska Democrat said.

The bill does not include the loan guarantee for an Alaska project included in the 2004 law. Begich said industry has not requested the guarantee.

Robert Dillon, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Murkowski supports the Alaska gas line project. But Murkowski is waiting to see if the project advances before pushing for federal money, Dillon said.

Funding for the federal coordinator’s office, which has had a budget of $1 million a year, was eliminated in President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for next fiscal year.

The state Legislature is considering legislation that would help set Alaska’s equity share in the project and advance the project into a phase of preliminary engineering and design.

It is not yet clear if the project will ever be built. Under the current schedule, if the project continues to progress, a final investment decision would not be made until about 2018 or 2019.

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