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Government Affairs Albany Update

February 20, 2004

Millennium Pipeline Project

The developers of the Millennium pipeline project announced on February 17th a two-stage plan that will supply more natural gas to peak demand areas of New York. The project will now involve two of New York's largest natural gas companies, National Fuel Gas in western New York and KeySpan in the New York City metropolitan area.

Phase one will replace and upgrade 186 miles of an existing pipeline from Corning to Ramapo. The project, which is expected to be in service by November 1, 2006, will also link the National Fuel Gas Company's Empire State pipeline with energy markets in eastern New York. Phase one of the project will also use KeySpan as a new anchor shipper, increasing the supply of natural gas to KeySpan's customers.

The second phase will link the New York City metropolitan area with Millennium by building a pipeline under the Hudson River. Millennium is awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Federal District Court before proceeding with the second phase of the plan, but said phase one will proceed as planned. Phase 1 will allow the companies to begin delivering much-needed new energy supplies to the region, while Millennium continues to work to complete Millennium's link to energy consumers in the New York City metropolitan market.

The new plan will provide much-needed energy to New Yorkers who are relying on natural gas more and more, and natural gas use in electricity generation continues to grow. It's important that this plan succeed in order to meet the future energy needs of New York. The Business Council is supporting the Millennium project, sponsored by Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. and others, as one step in resolving the growing threat of gaps between New York's energy needs and capacity.

30 Day Budget Amendments

Governor Pataki has introduced his "thirty day amendments" to the Executive Budget proposal. The amendments include only a few issues of significance to the Business Council. These include:

Workers' Comp. Benefit Increase Bill on Committee Agenda for Tuesday

The Business Council reported earlier this week that a workers' compensation benefit increase bill was introduced by Senator Guy Velella and Assemblywoman Susan John (S.6135/A.9736). The Assembly is wasting no time in moving this legislation. It has been placed on the Assembly Labor Committee agenda for this coming Tuesday, February 24. We strongly encourage you to contact your local Assembly representative to express your opposition to this legislation.

The bill contains no cost savings reforms. Instead, the bill would raise the level of workers' comp benefits to $625, 2/3 of the state average weekly wage, by December, 2006. The Business Council's initial estimate is that this change, alone, could raise employers' rates by 25 percent or more.

The bill contains other provisions which include: allowing unions to select a workers' compensation carrier for an employer; the creation of a medical trust fund for employers who do not provide health insurance so that employees compensation bills can be paid from the fund; permits high-wage earners to purchase additional benefits above the state rate. If the benefits are never used, the money is returned to the worker upon retirement; allows the Workers' Compensation Board to charge an employer for a claimants attorney fees if the employer has unsuccessfully argued against the claim.

The Business Council is strongly supporting a bill (S.5320-Libous, A.8862-Schimminger) that would limit, to 10 years, the duration of benefits given to injured or sick workers in cases in which benefits are not prescribed by statutory schedules. The goal is to give workers both ample benefits and sufficient time to seek retraining to return to work; provide for Social Security and pension offsets - that is, reductions in workers' compensation benefits applied when workers receive Social Security and/or pension benefits; give injured workers only half of remaining scheduled benefits if they return to work before scheduled benefits expire; implement meaningful objective medical guidelines to determine the degree of disability and the ability of workers receiving benefits to meet occupational demands.