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Story Last modified at 9:41 p.m. on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oil, energy, education funding top issues from constituents

By SEN. CATHY GIESSEL

photo:Opinion

SEN. CATHY GIESSEL

Editor's note: The Alaska Star asked our area's representatives and senators for their input on this year's legislative session. For the next five weeks, these public servants will share their impressions and work load with us. One senator or representative will be represented each week. We thank them for taking the time to communicate with their constituents during this very busy time. Meanwhile, we encourage readers to share their views, too. What do you think of the legislative process and the priorities for our community and state? We welcome your letters to the editor. Rep. Dan Saddler weighed in on Feb. 17. Next week we hear from Sen. Fred Dyson.

I am asked, "Are you enjoying your new job as Senator?" My answer is an unqualified "Yes!"

I have met with many District P constituents from all over our large, diverse, beautiful district. And I learn something new every day.

I serve on Senate Labor and Commerce, and State Affairs committees. But I also attend Resources, Finance and Education committees and closely follow those bills and issues.

The major concerns I hear from visiting constituents and e-mails to my office are similar to the concerns I heard over the year that I visited homes throughout District P. Those concerns are: the progressivity factor in Alaska's oil taxes and its negative effect on Alaska jobs, the uncertainty of energy for Southcentral, and education funding.

Oil Taxes: I support the governor's bill that would adjust the petroleum tax structure to reduce the steep rise in taxes as the price of oil goes up. I believe that reducing this steep progressivity slope will extend the work being done on the North Slope to access difficult oil deposits. Continued development on the North Slope creates ongoing, family-supporting jobs for our state. The governor's approach also encourages exploration and production in new areas of the North Slope.

Alaska relies on oil industry taxes to fund 90 percent of our state budget. It doesn't matter where Alaskans live; the oil industry revenue allows them to enjoy well-funded schools, transportation (airports, roads and bridges), communication, and countless other infrastructure. As an Alaskan who was here before statehood and Prudhoe, I can assure you that these amenities did not exist before the production of our petroleum resources.

We all should be very, very concerned about the condition of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). The decreasing volume of oil flowing through that pipeline is going to result in its final shut-down and its removal. This would move Alaska back in economic time, ending school funding and infrastructure maintenance, and devastating our job market.

But we have the opportunity to write a positive, prosperous future for our state economy by keeping oil in TAPS. We can keep exploration and production thriving on the North Slope.

Energy for heat and light is on everyone's mind at this time of year in our arctic state. I support empowering Alaska Energy Authority as a planning and oversight entity for our statewide energy supply. We have many opportunities to assure affordable energy for both urban and rural citizens. The Legislature said, in 2009, that we would achieve 50 percent of our energy needs with renewable energy by 2025. The Lower Watana hydroelectric project, which I support, would achieve that mandate. Hydroelectric power is consistent and durable. The Bradley Lake Dam has been a great success and even bolstered the salmon fisheries downstream from the dam.

I am very pleased to see the positive effects of incentives for new natural gas well drilling in Cook Inlet. At the same time, the closure of the LNG export facility on the Kenai is very concerning. Our gas price sales overseas cannot compete with the abundant shale gas in Canada, the Lower 48 and other countries. The export facility kept our Cook Inlet gas wells healthy and producing during the summer months, when our local demand was down. The gas storage facility being constructed by Enstar and Chugach Electric is now more critical than ever.

Education performance may respond to the governor's new Alaska Performance Scholarship program. I am hopeful that the more rigorous curriculum will result in better-prepared students equipped to pursue college or career and technical education after high school. I am also hoping that the scholarship will increase degree and certificate completion rates, so a prepared workforce is ready for Alaska jobs. The scholarship applies to a wide variety of careers and Alaska colleges. Check out more information at APS.alaska.gov.

I participated in the Town Hall meeting in Chugiak on Feb. 12. I will be at another Town Hall meeting in South Anchorage on 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 26 at Rabbit Creek Community Church. I welcome input in person or through e-mail (sen_cathy_giessel@legis.state.ak.us) or phone (800-892-4843).



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, February 23, 2011.