Dear Neighbors & Friends,
I hope this holiday season is bringing joy to your home and family! I’m grateful for our beautiful mountains and am hoping to use my down time for more time outside. Here’s to hoping for more snow!
Joint Resources Meeting on BP to Hilcorp Sale
Yesterday the House and Senate Resources Committee held a long awaited hearing on the proposed BP sale to Hilcorp. The two hour meeting was productive and members from both committees asked so many good questions about how Alaskans can be assured this is a good deal for the state. With Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corrie Feige taking the lead, she and other DNR and Department of Law staff walked through the process, with information on exactly what is proposed to be sold, how that impacts Hilcorp’s overall ownership of oil and gas leases in the state, how the state assesses financial readiness, and the timeline for completion of the review.
This deal is a big for our state, some even characterizing the sale as the biggest business deal in a generation. The value of the sale is $5.6 billion, which sounds like a lot, but in the context of the AKLNG Project, projected to cost up to $45 billion, it doesn’t seem as substantial. There is one major concern all Alaskans should want addressed with certainty; an issue called DR & R. This stands for dismantle, remove, and restore. This is what happens when the oil development ends. Who knows exactly when that will be? That’s one reason this is an issue. Regulators will require financial assures that the cost can be covered, but of course these are just estimates and costs could increase substantially when the work actually happens. That is a major concern – will the funds actually be there and if not, would the state get stuck with the bill? In addition, the way this has been addressed over the last forty years is that the operator-owners of TAPS, Exxon-Mobil, BP, and Conoco Philips, are allowed to include a per barrel surcharge to cover this costs. While it’s estimated that the cost is around $2.6 billion, the operator-owners have collected over $5 billion to cover the costs. That’s seems like a good because if it costs more it means they have the funds to cover it, right? Wrong. Or potentially wrong. The strange thing about this is that even though the funds have been collected the companies were not required to put the money aside in an account; instead it’s set up more like even though they have the money they will only ever pay when the bill comes. That in itself might be so bad, but in this sale of BP to Hicorp, BP is saying they will retain the responsibility for the DR & R. BP will be long gone from Alaska, but will still have the responsibility. Hmm. This gives me pause. This is not the level of certainty I want. We are exploring options for addressing this issue.
If you have some time over the holiday, I’d recommend watching the hearing, found here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=HRES%202019-12-16%2014:00:00
The Budget! A lot to not like….
The new budget is out. There are things not to like, but it’s no where near last year’s budget with the draconian cuts Governor Dunleavy proposed. That’s the good news.
I wish it was all good news. Unfortunately, the bad news about this budget is he proposes a messy way to fund it that would leave us very vulnerable. The proposal doesn’t push us off the edge, but gets damn close. Specifically, he proposes spending down almost every last penny of savings, something that could mean we can’t pay our bills at some point. Here’s how it works – we have the Constitutional Budget Reserve, that we use for cash flow, to pay bills as we wait for payments from the federal government, etc. We are supposed to keep the CBR at $2 billion. It’s there now and the Governor proposes to use most of what’s left.
Other questionable cuts include again recommending cutting the dairy program. The “Open for Business” Governor is proposing to eliminate the dairy industry in Alaska for a mere savings of some thousands of dollars. This is totally unacceptable. Farmers have no choice as the federal government requires that there be a government run inspection program for consumer safety. This makes no sense.
The budget appears to be status quo, but I suspect that is because the Governor realizes he can’t successfully cut the budget through the legislative process, but instead through the veto process. This means more uncertainty for our economy. I’ll be working hard to push back against these short sighted proposals that harm our economy.
And because it’s only a one year solution it means we will have this conversation the next year too. We must do better!
A Very Busy Fall – Part 3 of 3 – My Fairbanks Fall
For some reason, every organization had their annual meeting in Fairbanks, so I found myself going to Fairbanks five different times this fall, for the Alaska Defense Forum, Alaska Federation of Natives, Alaska Invasive Species Partnership, Alaska Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the Alaska Farm Bureau. I want to share with you why I’m working with these organizations and why these meetings were important for my work.
Legislator of the Year: Let’s start with something fun! This year I was awarded Legislator of the Year by the Alaska Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, for being a “fierce supporter of Alaska Agriculture in the Legislature and an ally of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.” How awesome! I was totally surprised and honored to receive this award. Of course, it’s a team effort and the credit on this one goes to my staff Karla, who worked so hard with me to defend funding for agriculture programs in our state. Alaska agriculture is the bright spot in our economy and now is the time to push forward for more success, not cut important programs.
Pictured with me – Chris Rainwater, AACD President, Chris Flickinger, Kodiak Soil and Water Conservation District, and Nicole Arevalo, with AACD & Homer Soil and Water Conservation District.
Beyond work on agriculture, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the state are doing really important work on reclamation after development, invasive species issues, and food security. Check out their website to learn more. While in Fairbanks we also visited Globe Creek Mining, a limestone mining operation, and Arctic Harvest, a distillery produce distilled spirits with Alaska Grown grains. Check out the Facebook album for more pictures from our visits! If you’re looking for an organization to work with on issues that matter, check them out. They can always use more volunteers!
Now, just going back in order of the trips, they were as follows.
Alaska Defense Forum: This year I am serving as the Co-Chair of the Joint Armed Services, a committee formed to be a state link to our Congressional delegation on issues of national security and military needs in Alaska. In this role, I was honored to represent the legislature at the first ever in Alaska, Alaska Defense Forum. The three day forum brought together state and national military leaders with community leaders to deepen our understanding of current defense issues and threats and how the state can better support our military. The take away message for me was that in order for us to support our military members we must support their whole family. We heard about concerns with cuts to education funding as parents being transferred to Alaska want good schools for their kids and the challenge of finding work because of restrictions on things like professional licenses that don’t always easily transfer from state to state.
We also hosted a breakfast with leaders that was powerful as we spent significant time discussing the issue of suicide among soldiers and Veterans. The rates are totally unacceptable and this year Alaska has been hit hard. This fall there was coverage and a call for action. I stand ready to do more. I definitely question decisions about our military presence and engagement in different conflicts, but I will always support the soldiers that have signed up to serve. I left feeling inspired to do more to welcome new military members into our communities. It was shared that soldiers often can’t afford to go home at the holidays and can feel quite lonely so the Alaska Coalition for Veterans and Military Families works to find families to sponsor a soldier. If you’re interested, here is the website. https://akcvmf.org/
Below: This impressive group includes General Saxe, Alaska’s Alaska Adjutant General and Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Major General Peter B. Andrysiak, command of United States Army Alaska, Rep. Laddie Shaw, Veteran who served as a Navy Seal, Senator Revak, recipient of a Purple Heart, as well as the public members of the JASC Committee, all Veterans. In total there is probably over 200 years of combined military service in this photo.
Alaska Federation of Natives: I didn’t have a role in AFN, but I think it is so important for us as policymakers to be present and listen to the discussion. This year turned out to have very important discussions, in particular the discussion on climate change. The exchange was covered in the news, but if you missed it youth asked for declaring climate change a state of emergency. This came in the form of a resolution from the Youth and Elders Conference. There was pushback and the discussion showed the tension between autonomy and development for rural communities and the pressure climate change puts on resources like fish and caribou. It was an emotional exchange and I think everyone present felt it in a deep way. I certainly did. Alaska is on the front lines for climate change and this summer should have been the wake-up call for action, but there is still resistance. I was so proud of the youth for speaking up and being leaders and also sad that we are in this place with such conflict over this issue. You can read more about the AFN resolutions here: https://www.nativefederation.org/2019/10/2019-afn-resolutions/
While at AFN, I took the opportunity to tour the new Interior Gas Utility LNG storage facility that will store 5.25 million gallons of LNG, Interior Alaska has struggled for years with unacceptably high energy prices. These new facilities are part of a regional plan to bring lower cost energy to the Interior. We had the cool experience of being allowed to hike up the couple hundred steps to the top of the storage tank. What a view of Fairbanks from the top!
Alaska Invasive Species Partnership: I attended and presented at the fall meeting of the Alaska Invasive Species Partnership. This is a group I’ve been working with over the last couple of years for a long term strategy to address invasives in Alaska. We are lucky that we haven’t had the significant problems like the lower 48, think zebra mussels, that have decimated fish populations across the country as they kill everything when they take over. We have had outbreaks, though, and we are under tremendous threat, and for a number of reasons. In terms of vectors, the way an invasive travels from place to place, we have many. People traveling to Alaska from all over, float planes traveling all over the state moving plants and water, and watercraft of all types are some of the major vectors. We have the opportunity to get ahead of the problem here and we are working on a legislative proposal to create a multi-stakeholder approach to long-term management. Stay tuned for more.
Fun fact: Our district was well represented at the conference with leaders in this work. Pictured with me are neighbors Gino Graziano, Invasive Plants Instructor, UAF Cooperative Extension Service (he’s our own neighborhood expert on getting rid of the invasive European Bird Cherry), Micah Hahn, Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies (she gave a fascinating presentation on ticks in Alaska!, a problem we haven’t had before, but is changing), and John Pratt, with the Seaplane Pilots Association.
Alaska Farm Bureau: This was fun because the meeting was at Chena Hot Springs. So fun to talk about Alaska agriculture and innovation at a facility where you’re eating fresh lettuce and tomatoes grown using the innovative geo-thermal steam heat system from the hot springs that allows for heated greenhouses year round. This year the group was really focused on success in 2020. I was pleased they selected my HB 16, to increase opportunities for value added products through herd share programs, as one of the top legislative priorities. They also want to see more Alaskans getting into farming so put their money where their mouth is and committed to supporting Alaska Future Farmers of America Association. This program has grown in recent years and it was fun to attend their first ever Blue and Gold Banquet. I was impressed to learn about the leadership programs offered and the leadership skills these youth are learning through their participation. They also have to participate in an agriculture activity and that often includes learning business skills too. Very cool! We need more programs for our youth and it’s wonderful to see how many youth are now involved.
Pictured with me to the right is Suzi Crosby, owner of Cottonwood Creek Farm, where she produces goat milk through a herd share program. Here is a package of her homemade peppercorn chevre, yum! If HB 16 passes you’ll have access to this and other products too!
Upcoming Community Council Meetings
The Airport Heights Community Council will meet on Thursday, December 19th, 7:00pm. Airport Heights Elementary School, 1510 Alder St.
The Mountain View Community Council’s next meeting will be Wednesday, January 8th at 6:00pm at the Mountain View Library, 120 Bragaw St.
The Russian Jack Community Council will also meet Wednesday, January 8th at 6:30 at Wonder Park Elementary, 5101 E 4th Ave.
Until next week,
P.S. We are here for a few more weeks. Please get in touch if you’d like to meet before we head to Juneau!