- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Jan. 17, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Give local air quality control a chance

Residents of the Fairbanks North Star Borough went to the polls 103 days ago and voted on a ballot measure that sought to continue preventing the local government from imposing rules to improve the area’s dismal wintertime air quality.

A majority of voters casting ballots rejected the measure. The margin of victory was a fairly comfortable 3 percent.

It marked a fundamental change of heart among voters, who in two previous elections had voted in favor of citizen initiatives prohibiting the Borough Assembly from approving ordinances aimed at improving air quality in what’s called the non-attainment area of the borough. The area roughly reaches from North Pole to Ester and includes most of the borough’s population.

The failure of the ballot measure in October 2014 allowed the borough government to once again be in charge of dealing with our air quality problem, which is of such severity the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could punish the state if we don’t make substantial progress.

But, as sure as the sun comes up each day, those who object to a local solution have promised yet another initiative, this one to overturn what appears to be the anticipated approval by the Borough Assembly of a package of local air quality measures presented this week.

The proposed air quality ordinance sponsored by Assemblyman John Davies and Assemblywomen Kathryn Dodge and Janice Golub is generally reasonable, as have been other proposals over the years. There are not - and never have been - wood stove police who are going to come to your house to take away your wood stove.

The proposed air quality ordinance includes fines and several provisions that would do, among several things, the following:

- Prevent the installation of solid fuel burning appliances in the non-attainment area that don’t comply with EPA standards as set out in the proposed ordinance.

- Prevent the sale of property on which a solid fuel burning appliance has been installed unless the appliance is listed by the borough as compliant with EPA standards.

- Define the opacity standard for plumes from solid fuel appliances in the non-attainment area and sets rules about emissions impacting residents in a neighborhood.

- Set a limit on where a hydronic heater - known generally as an outdoor wood boiler - can be installed on a person’s property. Heaters installed in violation of this rule would have to be removed or made inoperable within a set period of time.

- Limit what can be burned in a solid-fuel burning appliance. Really, who needs to be burning tires, plastics, rubber goods and paints in one of these? But people apparently do it.

- Set voluntary and required burning restrictions in the non-attainment area during defined air quality episodes but allow a home owner to obtain an exemption if the home owner has no other source of heat.

Local control is better than punting the issue to the state. Fairbanks residents know best what will work for Fairbanks, though whatever we decide must be acceptable so as to be included in the statewide air quality plan that must be submitted to the EPA.

Gov. Bill Walker, in a meeting with the Daily News-Miner editorial board on Friday, agrees local control is best. Here’s what he had to say when asked his preference of state or local handling of the Fairbanks air quality problem:

“I come from local government, and I like as many decisions to be made at the local level as possible,” the governor said. “I just think that those that are directly impacted by decisions being made are going to give the best input, and so I always, more often than not, defer to local government to make a decision about issues that impact them.”

“I’m a states rights guy, but I’m also a local rights guy,” he said. “Local governments do a better job of handling local issues than the state does.”

Let’s keep it that way as we work to improve our air quality. Let’s give local control a chance to work and avoid this continued ballot box policymaking on the matter.

___

Jan. 14, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Staying focused on natural gas

Interior power co-op Golden Valley Electric Association announced this week that starting in March, local power customers will pay close to 3 cents less per kilowatt hour on their energy bill. That’s unequivocally good news for residents who have been hampered by high local energy costs. The sizable drop in heating fuel prices this winter, coupled with warmer-than-usual weather, also has been a boon for those shelling out to have their home fuel tanks filled.

But this respite from the pain of energy costs in years past shouldn’t dampen our resolve to find long-term solutions to the Interior energy crisis.

Like the direct benefit of lower heating fuel costs, the coming drop in GVEA’s rates is a result of the same phenomenon hamstringing the state government’s budget: the sustained decline in the global cost of oil (and, by extension, its derivatives). Although GVEA produces the vast majority of its energy through lower-cost coal and the Eva Creek Wind Project near Healy, about a quarter of the power the co-op produces is generated by oil. And as the cost of fuel drops for the co-op, GVEA passes that savings on to its members. GVEA officials estimate the rate drop will result in a $17 savings per month for the average local power customer - not a fortune, but $17 per month adds up quickly. During the course of a year, it would result in more than $200 in savings if the new rate held steady.

Lower costs for oil - and therefore heating fuel - have helped residents who in prior winters have seen their budgets crippled by the cost of heating their homes. And warmer temperatures have meant community members are filling their tanks less often.

But we shouldn’t let this temporary period of relief from the high prices that have been the norm in recent years distract us from the community goal of securing low-cost energy in the form of natural gas. Contrary to what the global market price for oil indicates today, it is a scarce commodity, and growing scarcer every day. It’s only a matter of time before prices return to significantly higher levels, and we shouldn’t sit on our hands until then. Rather, we should treat the recent price drop for oil as what it is - a period of breathing room that came at an opportune time for Interior interests. The Interior Energy Project is in a delicate place with the expiration of contractor MWH’s participation in the construction of a North Slope liquefaction plant, and diligent work must be done by project stakeholders to make sure the Interior keeps moving toward gas delivery.

From a statewide perspective, the massive decline in revenue resulting from the oil price slump underscores more than ever the necessity of transitioning to new economic drivers for Alaska. Among these, the most obvious and significant is the construction of a natural gas pipeline that can provide a substantial replacement for at least a substantial fraction of the lost revenue as oil production declines. Such a pipeline will require a financial commitment by the state at a time when finding funds is difficult, but things in Alaska are rarely easy.

Though we are experiencing a respite from the historic high energy prices of the past several years, we must acknowledge those high costs will return, so we must work swiftly to make sure we can transition to other fuels. Now is no time to get distracted from our goal of long-term affordable heat and power for the Interior.

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