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Story Last modified at 10:24 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Legislative session sparks excitement and concern
GUEST EDITORIAL

By Sen. Charlie Huggins

Editor's note: The Alaska Star asked our area's representatives and senators for their input on this year's legislative session. So far, we have heard from Rep. Dan Saddler, Sen. Cathy Giessel, Rep. Bill Stoltze, Sen. Fred Dyson and Rep. Anna Fairclough. Sen. Charlie Huggins is the last of our legislators to be featured. We thank these legislators for taking a moment to communicate with their constituents during this 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.

With the session at the two-thirds mark, we find ourselves in a churning mixture of excitement over some issues and proposals, on the one hand, and a high level of concern over other issues on the other hand.

For example, these issues have me excited for what they represent for Alaska's future:

1. Susitna hydro. For the first time in more than a quarter century, the Legislature and the governor are seriously looking into building this project, which, at 400 megawatts, would provide about half the electrical need of the Railbelt. In the mid-1980s, the Legislature shelved a two-dam Susitna project due to a downturn in the economy, but now a single dam makes sense, we have the money to fund it, and it would be an excellent investment in low-cost, renewable power for the coming century.

2. Mount Spurr geothermal. Here is another renewable source of power that could provide some of that other half of our energy needs long into the future.

3. In-state natural gas, or Bullet Line. As a co-chair of the In-State Gas Caucus, I was encouraged to hear a presentation by Dan Fauske last week to update the Legislature on the project and efforts to define its economics.

4. Coal-to-liquids potential. We have substantial volumes of coal, on both sides of Cook Inlet, which could be liquefied for export, either to Asia or to the West Coast. The technology is proven to be able to convert coal into a fuel similar to sulfur-free diesel, so it's mainly a matter of making the decision to support and work with interested parties to make this happen. It may take state dollars, but that is the public policy we need to hammer out – what's the cost, how many long-term and short-term jobs will it produce, and so forth. I remain very hopeful about coal-to-liquids.

5. New staff leader for the Joint Legislative Veterans' Caucus. As co-chairman of the caucus, I am pleased to announce Capt. Aaron Schroeder (U.S. Army, ret.) has been appointed to the position of caucus staff. Aaron will build on the past two years of work facilitating the caucus mission as a liaison between veterans' groups throughout Alaska and the Legislature. His phone number is (907) 465-3732; e-mail is aaron_schroeder@legis.state.ak.us and he is happy to help on any veteran issue.

6. Census numbers favor Mat-Su. With 30,000 new residents, it's clear that Mat-Su is the population growth leader for the state. This growth will result in at least one new House district for Mat-Su.

7. KABATA. The Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority continues to move forward on its project to connect Point MacKenzie directly with Anchorage. The project has been awarded its Record of Decision, and if they can obtain the funding they have requested through the capital budget, I hope to see the bridge become a reality in the mid-term future.

Here are some of the issues causing my colleagues and me concern:

1. Status of our economy. Alaska's state spending continues to be nearly 90 percent dependent on income from oil production, yet we see declining investment on exploration and development on the North Slope. This, in turn, will impact the through-put of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which continues to drop by about 6 percent annually. As we discovered in January when TAPS was shut down, low flow and cold weather do not mix well for a pipeline that was designed for three times the flow, and for hot oil. Furthermore, a big gas pipeline in an optimistic scenario is 25 years over the horizon. If TAPS flow is allowed to continue to drop, that horizon is a long, long gulf to cross. Another piece of this bad news puzzle is that Cook Inlet natural gas production is declining and, short of a major discovery, this will impact every gas customer in Southcentral. Another impact of falling North Slope oil production is the loss of fuels refined and used in-state. These include motor fuels, home heating oil, and jet fuel for Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and our military bases.

2. Finally, I am concerned about what has happened in Japan – earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear power plant failures, and an active volcano. My heart goes out to the people and communities that have been impacted. I am also concerned about the lessons of preparedness we take away from these events, both personally and for our communities. We learned some of these lessons in 1964. At that time, Alaska had only a fraction of the population and development Japan now has, but our losses were up close and personal for those who lived through it. 1964 was a long time ago, but we must continue to be prepared, in the event of the worst.

The Legislature adjourns April 17. I remain hopeful our work product will reflect the priorities of the people of Alaska. I look forward to hearing from the voters of Senate District H as we address these issues.

On a personal family note, if I may be a proud father: Our middle child, daughter Hallie, will graduate from West Point in May. Following graduation, Hallie will report to Fort Rucker, Ala., for helicopter flight training school.



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