LEWISTON — U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said Tuesday he agrees with newly re-elected Republican Gov. Paul LePage that New England should expand its natural gas pipeline.

King, during a meeting at the Sun Journal, said LePage has been right to advocate for expanding the flow of natural gas from Pennsylvania and New York into New England and especially to Maine, where the growing cost of energy continues to drag on the state’s economy.

“Here’s where the governor and I are in total agreement,” King said. “We need to get more natural gas access and it’s a pipeline issue; it’s not a gas issue.”

King said New England enjoys proximity to the Marcellus Shale, a major source of natural gas, but the region’s lack of access to the resource prohibits low-priced energy.

“It’s just killing us,” King said. “And it’s so frustrating because we are sitting next to one of the greatest natural gas deposits in the world and we can’t get it in, just because of pipeline capacity.”

He said he was working to convince U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, both Democrats from Massachusetts, that a pipeline expansion in their state is critical. Outgoing Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick had been an opponent of the pipeline expansion, despite a tentative agreement among the remaining New England governors that would have helped fund the infrastructure expansion.

Patrick was replaced in November by Republican Charlie Baker. King predicted Baker would be more willing to entertain the pipeline expansion.

King also agreed with LePage that the pipeline infrastructure could be expanded quickly — within three years — if the states and the federal government worked quickly to put a regulatory framework in place.

“There is a proposal to upgrade one of the existing pipelines in place, so you are not talking about new rights of way or major environmental permits,” King said. “It’s a change in the pressure and increasing the capacity of the pipe, not the slower process.”

King said when he was governor, it took Maine only three years to add a pipeline for natural gas from Maritime Canada, and the expansion from Massachusetts being discussed wasn’t as extensive an undertaking.

“It’s something that’s got to be done,” King said, “because we’ve become so dependent on natural gas it’s now 55 or 60 percent of our electricity.”

Patrick Woodcock, director of LePage’s Energy Office, wrote in an email to the Sun Journal on Tuesday that while New England’s problem illustrates a “fundamental breakdown within the regulatory framework of our natural gas and electric markets,” the region’s “misalignment … and the massive economic consequences in our spiking electricity prices, and our oil backup reliability program to keep the lights on, it is not completely unique to New England.”

Woodcock suggested other regions of the U.S. would soon be in similar situations if Washington did not act quickly.

“Congress needs to wake up to the severity of the challenge, which will spread to other regions as more generation shifts to natural gas,” Woodcock wrote. “… the permitting process must be expedited so we do not hit delays when these natural gas projects can be the difference in whether businesses stay viable in Maine.”

King also spoke about his opposition to an expansion of an oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, through the upper Midwest of the U.S. The 900-mile extension of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has become the poster child for environmentalists who are opposed to Canada’s extraction of oil sands petroleum.

King acknowledged that the Canadians would still likely export the crude, which is considered some of the most environmentally damaging to extract and process, whether or not the Keystone expansion goes through.

He said he was bracing for a push from federal lawmakers in natural gas-producing states that would allow more natural gas to be exported from the U.S.

“My concern is that’s basically exporting an advantage,” King said. “It’s one of the few advantages that we have vis-a-vis China, for example. Natural gas there is $17 (per million) BTUs and it’s $5 in the U.S.”

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King on immigration, Syria and Iraq

On the issue of immigration, King said he was one of the few lawmakers who was not a Republican to express concerns over President Barack Obama’s recent executive order that essentially granted amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

King said the issue of reforming U.S. immigration policy is critical, but Obama’s actions last week may make it more difficult for Democrats and Republicans to strike a deal both sides can live with, he said. He also said he wished Obama would have postdated his action in order to give Congress a chance to act before he used his executive powers.

“It puts the Republicans in the position of having to vote with the president on something rather than having to come up with something on their own,” King said.

He called the current U.S. immigration policy that discourages those studying in the U.S. on visas from staying and becoming citizens “dumb.”

“We are educating brilliant people and they graduate from Stanford and get their degree and go back to China because we don’t let them stay,” King said. “And a lot of them want to stay. That’s just dumb. It just really is.”

He said one bill he was working on that would have an impact in Maine would allow federal funding for those seeking asylum to move with the asylum-seeking immigrant. Current policy allows federal funds to go only to the city in the U.S. where asylum-seekers are first placed.

For example, he said, when an asylum-seeker first moves to Atlanta they receive federal support. But if that person decides to move to Lewiston, that supportive funding remains in Atlanta.

Cities such as Portland and Lewiston have been affected by having to provide General Assistance to asylum-seeking refugees who have no working papers and no jobs. King agreed that the federal government should help support the asylum-seeking refugees it permits to enter the U.S.

King, who serves on both the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, also touched on the subject of the Islamic State. He said he believed there would have to be more troops on the ground to bring the violence and disorder in Syria and Iraq to an end, but he said he believed those troops should be from other Muslim countries and not from the U.S. 


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