Commentary

Palin’s Rejection of Federal Funds a Setback For Alaska’s Energy Future

By Rep. Les Gara

Alaska has the highest energy prices in the nation. The solution to the problem isn’t rejecting funds that could (if we choose) be dedicated to build wind, hydro and other renewable energy production.

Urban Alaska is facing a dangerous short-term shortage of natural gas. 

Rural Alaska is facing a shortage of affordable, reliable energy. The nation is trying to grapple with an overreliance on foreign oil.

The Governor’s decision doesn’t help the national goal of domestic energy production to minimize our reliance on energy from rogue countries, or countries that are leading to world instability. It doesn’t help the state’s goal of increasing affordable, diversified energy production.

So, obviously, I agree the decision by the Governor was a mistake, and have written to tell her so. 

Governor Palin’s decision is as ironic as it is troubling. Ironically, the state is likely to adopt the efficiency measures required by federal law – and just not get the $28 million offered to us for doing so. So – as I’ve said, what she’s done is as effective as spending your time blowing dandelion seeds into the wind. 

I’m confident Alaska will eventually adopt standards for smart, energy efficient construction, and the private sector is already doing this. In that sense, the construction world is passing us by. 

It’s hard to stop the world from progressing towards energy efficient construction.  Consumers want it because it saves us money. The nation wants it because it protects our national security.

So far every other state in the nation is complying with the federal request that we decrease our use of oil and gas (to lower our reliance on foreign sources, and conserve what we have here) – and energy efficiency is the cheapest way to do this. 

That’s why the Alaska Homebuilders Association supports the energy efficiency standards referenced by the federal law, as does the state’s housing agency, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (energy efficiency code compliance is a precondition for getting an AHFC loan).

Many are requesting a veto override from the Legislature. That was my first instinct too.  But (we’re still researching this) a veto override may not accomplish anything productive. The Governor has to affirmatively apply for the available federal funds, and promise the President Alaska will join 49 other states by committing to make the required progress on energy efficiency standards. 

If Governor Palin won’t do that, we cannot receive the federal funds. It is unlikely the Constitution allows the Legislature to require the Governor to write this compliance letter to the President. That’s the problem with a veto override. The effect of an override would be to say that we can use the money, but only IF the Governor applies for it. A veto override would not be effective, assuming my reading of the law is correct. 

In the meantime, the smartest thing we can all do is let the Governor know, in e-mails to her and letters to the newspaper, and elsewhere, what we think. It is my hope she would change her mind if faced with logical argument, a reminder of the nation’s national security goals, and a vibrant public discussion about local energy needs.

I would advocate for using all $28 million to build renewable energy projects around the state – a purpose allowed by the federal law, and will keep pushing the Governor to reconsider her decision. If she doesn’t, it will just cost the state $28 million in a time when we need diversified energy projects, and need the funds to build them. 

I plan on asking the Governor if she’ll re-evaluate her decision if we change her agencies’ spending proposal, and dedicate the $28 million to energy production as stated above. The current budget proposal, submitted by her agencies, stated the funds would be used for planning and other purposes. 

While those intended uses were sensible, I hope the Governor agrees that if we target the funds to power plants in rural and urban Alaska, where the energy is needed, it would justify a change of mind. I hope we can all join together and do this for the good of the state, and the good of the nation.

Rep. Les Gara is a Democratic member of the Alaska House of Representatives, representing the 23rd District since 2003.

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