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Palin cites pipeline project, but its progress is limited and success uncertain

By Serge F. Kovaleski and Mike McIntire
New York Times News Service / September 11, 2008
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ANCHORAGE - Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, has sought to burnish her executive credentials by telling how she had engineered the deal that jump-started a long-delayed gas pipeline project.

Stretching more than 1,700 miles, it would deliver natural gas from the North Slope of Alaska to the lower 48 states and be the largest private-sector infrastructure project on the continent. Palin has asserted the pipeline will help lead America toward energy independence.

But while she was effective in attracting developers to a project that eluded Alaska governors for decades, an examination of the project found she has overstated both the progress that has been made and the certainty of success.

The pipeline exists only on paper. The first section has yet to be laid, federal approvals are years away, and the pipeline will not be completed for at least a decade.

Palin won the governor's office in part by capitalizing on populist distaste for the political establishment's coziness with Big Oil, and her pipeline strategy was intended to blunt its power over the process. Some Alaska lawmakers who initially endorsed her plan now believe it was a mistake. State Senator Bert Stedman, a Republican, said that in its contract with the chosen developer, TransCanada, the state bargained away too much leverage.

While Palin's legislation did away with the concessions to the oil companies that she considered excessive, it committed the state to paying the winning bidder up to $500 million in matching funds to offset costs of obtaining regulatory approvals and other expenses.

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