Palin Stands Alone on a Shrinking Island

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin

Last week Governor Palin set herself apart from every other Republican and Democratic governor in the nation. It’s a distinction I’d rather not have – as an Alaskan, or as an American who believes in President Obama’s goal of reducing America’s dependence on foreign energy.

Last week Governor Palin became the first governor in the nation to refuse to accept energy funds the president offered as part of his economic stimulus package. The governor vetoed the Alaska Legislature’s acceptance of $28 million the president and Congress have offered Alaska to create a renewable energy and energy savings plan. All we had to do, to accept the funds – funds every other state is working to try to keep – was commit to do the rational. We just had to certify Alaska would make a good faith effort to adopt rational energy efficiency standards (the IEEC), and begin 90% compliance with it by 2017.

The nation’s construction industry is already gearing up to follow energy efficiency standards because, well, they save money. As I tried to inform the governor, our own state residential housing agency, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, already requires compliance with this code for any construction it finances. And our normally conservative state Homebuilders Association supports its adoption because it makes sense. And cents.

Here are a few more reasons I could do without this “only one of 50 states” distinction.

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

Urban Alaska is facing a dangerous short-term shortage of natural gas, and high diesel and other energy costs. We need renewable energy sources on our electric power grid to lessen our reliance on natural gas and high cost diesel fuel.

Much of rural Alaska is facing an even more acute shortage of affordable, reliable energy. In most of our rural communities Alaskans rely heavily on barging and flying in diesel fuel. That’s dangerous. Last winter diesel hit a pocket-emptying $8 – $9 a gallon in many remote communities. Many Alaskans in these communities were asked, in effect, to choose between food and heat.

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. What Governor Palin’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. We’ll end up following along, and just not get the $28 million the president has offered for doing this.

Want a little more irony? Our Legislature, led by Senator Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel), launched an impressive plan to help Alaskans make their homes more energy efficient. We can’t all build new homes, so, at a cost of more than $300 million, the state is helping us upgrade the energy efficiency of the homes we live in today. It’s hard to understand how the governor could join the Legislature in this effort, but not want to make new homes energy efficient in the first place. Building our schools and homes right is a lot cheaper than coming in afterwards make them more efficient.

The president is asking us to look forward, and save money to boot. The governor is in effect asking us to spend more by looking backwards.

As a legislator, I’m left with this question. What can we do? 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. We can’t force the governor to make that commitment with a veto override.

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. When faced with logical argument, a reminder of the nation’s national security goals, and a vibrant public discussion about local energy needs, Governor Palin would do well to re-think her position.

Sometimes you have to stand on an island, alone, on principle. Sometimes, when you’re alone on an island and everyone else is happily waving as they pass by, you need to think twice about what you’ve done. This is one of those times.

The 49 governors who are trying to work with the president to comply with our nation’s energy efficiency efforts are right. Like them, we could use the funds for needed energy projects, and will benefit by joining the national move towards more energy efficient construction. I hope the governor thinks again about this one. Staying on this island’s getting pretty expensive.

Les Gara
Alaska Dispatch

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