Energy is Top of Legislative Agenda

By Dave Donaldson

The legislature goes into its annual session tomorrow (Tuesday) with a major focus on energy-related issues.  Fuel development and supply,  as well as taxes,  are at the top of  the agenda for both parties … although how much gets to the governor’s desk is still up in the air. 

Both House and Senate committees held hearings on energy throughout the state since last year’s session — on the plan to send North Slope gas to North American markets, on renewable energy projects and on guaranteeing fuel for Alaskans to use.   Combined with a recent upsurge in debate over petroleum tax structure,  the subject will demand lawmakers’ attention this year.

House Speaker Mike Chenault says the result of the session will hinge on two points — will members be willing to spend the money it will take and will they be willing to turn down some of the many alternatives under consideration.

At some point in time, the legislature and the administration, the governor, will have to stand up and say “We’ve got to make a move.”  And pick a project, if that’s what it takes, and move forward.   Now, would that be a Chakachamna or would that be a Susitna or an in-state gas line,  I can’t tell you which.  But there’s too many options out there for the legislature to move forward on.

Consideration of taxes stems from Governor Parnell’s proposal to make minor changes in the tax regime.  He says there’s room for movement — and he and other House members support change, but he’s not ready predict how extensive that will be.

What we’re talking about right now is the economy of Alaska and the people working in Alaska.   And because of the time frame that these corporations make their investments on, can Alaska stand around for a year or two years before they make a decision on  a five year plan that the industry is going to propose for spending in Alaska, and I don’t think that we can.

The Senate is not ready to pick up that subject, however.  President Gary Stevens says lawmakers have time to make good decisions on changes to the tax — and this year is too early.   He says the current tax regime went into effect less that two years ago,  And right now the state is enjoying record-high revenue.

The question is did we go too far.  Do we need to look at it and say maybe we’re not encouraging development and exploration as much as we should.  So that will be an issue,  But I’m not certain that will be an issue decided this legislative session.  It’s something we’ve got time on.

House Democrats were a major factor in the votes for the North Slope gas line, energy projects and the rewrite of the petroleum tax.  And there is support among their minority caucus for long-term, reliable, low-cost energy.  David Guttenberg (GUHTT -n-berg)  of Fairbanks is the Minority Whip.   He says it’s all on the table for his members.  He says Democrats want to see the development of fuel  resources that will take care of Alaskans.

If we go ahead with a gas line,  some people think that is going to be the answer.   But it’s not unless we make it happen.  What’s going to guarantee that we have gas that’s equivalent to what Anchorage has now, or Cook Inlet has now?  What’s going to guarantee that there’s propane distribution points for rural Alaska off the Yukon or wherever ?   We have to make that happen.

All members say there are other issues that need consideration — the governor’s scholarship program and giving members capital projects in their districts to make up for no local items last year.  Those will rise and fall during the next ninety days.


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