Olson says getting gas pipeline right is goal

Posted: Friday, August 18, 2006

Question 1: As succinctly and plainly as possible, tell us your opinion of Gov. Frank Murkowski’s proposed contract with the major producers and his gas pipeline plans.

Answer: Governor Murkowski should be commended for getting the North Slope producers to the table. Construction of the Gas Pipeline, the sooner the better, is the goal of the administration, most legislators, and the residents of Alaska.

Getting it right is my goal. We currently have a number of issues that need to be addressed prior to ratification of the contract. They include a reasonable start date, local hire of Alaskans to the full extent of the law, addressing the question of “fiscal certainty” to protect Alaska rather than the producers, and fleshing out the details of State ownership of a portion of the pipeline.

The hybrid petroleum tax passed by the House and Senate several days ago was a key step in the process of getting the gas pipeline. It is unquestionably one of the most important pieces of legislation since Statehood. We are making progress towards the gas pipeline.

Question 2: As of June 30, the Alaska Permanent Fund had reached nearly $33 billion, $2.9 million more than the year before. Despite recent state government appropriations, school districts continue to struggle. At what point do you feel some of the fund should be applied directly to education?

Answer: School districts continue to struggle for a number of reasons. For our district, the major problem is that we are not fully compensated by the State for our rural and isolated schools. This year, Representative Chenault, Senator Wagoner and I were able to partially remedy the problem with the Area Cost Differential. We recovered for the District approximately 25 percent of what was owed. This was a temporary fix — we are working on a long-term solution. A quality education is a gift that we can give our children and grandchildren that will benefit them throughout their lives.

I do not believe that the body of the Permanent Fund should be used for education. Once we take that first bite from the Fund, there will be a push for other programs and projects, such as funding the PERS/TERS retirement deficit. The residents of Alaska will decide when it is time.

Question 3: The nation’s dependence on oil and the impact of rising fuel prices are ever more evident these days. Can and should Alaska provide financial incentives to business for developing alternative energies? Which ones and what might incentives look like?

Answer: The 24th Legislature looked at that possibility this year. Some progress was made. A $5,000,000 loan was made to Agrium to assist with the next step in their Coal gasification project. When that project comes on line it will free up significant amounts of natural gas and provide surplus electricity to the grid.

We assisted HEA with the Healy Clean Coal Project — with the same intent. The Governor vetoed the AIDA loan program along with additional funds to Southcentral that would have reduced our dependency on natural gas. It appears that he may reverse his position on that shortly.

Several communities such as Kotzebue are already pursuing alternatives. Kotzebue uses wind generators to supply about 15% of their electrical needs. Fire Island is currently being considered for wind generators.

Alaska can and ultimately will apply incentives for alternate energy, both in the form of grants and tax credits.

Question 4: Recent predictions suggest salmon returns may be relatively poor for the next several years, which could leave many fishermen unable to make ends meet. Should the state step in and provide financial help? If so, what kind? If not, why not?

Answer: We must address the problems of fish allocation between the various user groups, fish science, and fish politics. Allocation to the commercial fishermen is partially responsible for how they fish and how many fish they catch. Biologists set the run projections. The Board of Fish sets the rules and must be unbiased.

We need to invest in state of the art equipment. We all know the problems we had recently with local sonar gear. We need to explore combining Sport Fish and Commercial Fish within the Department of Fish and Game. The goal would be to protect the runs, rather than user group fights. The terminal fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof was a fiasco.

If this year is a disaster, grants and loans should be provided. We need to work with our Congressional delegation to reinstate the National Emergency Grant Program for salmon fishermen and fisherwomen.

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