Alaska Senators to Tackle Issue of High Fuel Prices
FAIRBANKS — A Senate working group representing the Interior, Anchorage and rural Alaska has announced plans to tackle the issue of expensive of gasoline and heating fuel in the state and come up with a solution that can be implemented next legislative session.
The first of what’s planned to be multiple meetings will be held Wednesday at the Anchorage Legislative Office from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., where leadership will take testimony from the public on exploring why Alaska’s energy is so expensive and what can be done to fix it.
The senators heading up the effort include Sens. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel.
“Interior families and businesses pay nearly $600 million in energy costs annually,” Thomas said in a news release. “Much of this money flows out of our local economy. It is crucial that we reduce these costs.”
“There is no silver bullet, and these hearings will bring to light some of the steps that we can take today to lower the cost of energy until a gas line and Susitna (dam) can bring long-term solutions to our community.”
The effort comes after a legislative session that focused on oil taxes and natural gas pipelines, both of them unresolved long-term issues for Alaska’s energy and finances. Much less attention was paid to reducing the cost of heating fuel and gasoline this winter.
But that’s not to say there weren’t a few solid attempts at lowering energy prices.
An energy voucher program proposed by Thomas and Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, would have given Permanent Fund Dividend recipients vouchers good for heating oil, electricity, natural gas, wood or pellets. Aimed as a short-term, one-winter solution, the bill also would have had the governor investigate other plans for long-term relief from high energy prices.
The measure passed the Senate on a strong majority but failed to make it the House Finance Committee or to the floor for a vote.
Both Gov. Sean Parnell and Republican House leaders were skeptical of the plan. Parnell said he believed it wasn’t fair for everyone to get a voucher when not everyone is suffering from the same degree of energy prices. House leaders said they were more interested in finding a long-term fix through the supplier side of energy but didn’t put forward any significant legislation of their own.
Recognizing some political resistance, senators heading up the latest effort are taking a broader look at what the Legislature can do soon to deliver energy relief to Alaska. According to the news release, the group will take a look at measures such as “attracting new suppliers to increase competition, creating more fuel storage, and increasing funding for weatherization and other energy-efficiency programs.”
“Many Alaskans feel gouged at the pump and are asking for relief,” Wielechowski said. “The purpose of this hearing is to look for concrete ways we can lower costs and decrease the burden on Alaskans.”
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