One of the bills under discussion in the Alaska Legislature this past week, sponsored by Senator Peter Micciche apparently at the request of railbelt utilities, is SB 173, exempting utilities from liability for pollution associated with utility poles. Primarily we are talking about general biocide pentachlorophenol (PCP) – which has been banned in numerous countries because it causes all sorts of cancer in humans – though is widely used across America and Alaska on the poles that hold up our electric lines.
It seems as though the results of some studies in Alaska may show that cancer-causing, salmon-killing PCP may indeed be causing pollution plumes around some of our over 250,000 power poles in AK.
If SB 173 passes the legislature as is, and is signed into law, it will deprive Alaskans of any legal remedy they might seek to clean up the toxins, should the toxins be found on their property, in their drinking water, or their salmon streams.
The argument for SB 173 is compelling and simple: if someone sues the utility for the pollution they caused, and a clean up ensues, our electric rates will increase. There are over 250,000 utility poles in AK treated with PCP. If you take the argument pedal to the metal and scream that extreme environmental radicals are going to require utilities to rip out and replace all 250,000 poles, (a smart gambit on the part of utility management) you could see how ratepayers might get a bit antsy for a solution ASAP.
The argument against this bill is also simple – shielding the entity who cause the problem from liability for dealing with the problem does not end the problem, it just passes the buck along to someone else. Adults need to take some time considering solutions to this issue. SB 173 puts the burden of current and future problems on a generation that is probably just now entering preschoolers – which is a dangerous, ridiculous, and unfair way of governing.
There are compromises out there. The legislature should take its time with this one. One solution would be to form a task force to investigate best management practices for utility poles.
SB 173 will be heard in Senate Resources Friday, Feb. 16th at 3:30 p.m.
Hearings to watch this week
MONDAY, FEB. 19
1:00 PM House Resources will hear a presentation on the proposed Pebble Mine.
-Lindsay Layand, Deputy Director, United Tribes of Bristol Bay
-David Chambers, President, Center for Science in Public Participation
-Rick Halford, Guide & Commercial Pilot
-Daniel Schindler, Professor, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, University of WA
-Tom Tilden, Chief, Curyung Tribal Council
-Nanci Morris-Lyon, Owner & Operator, BearTrail Lodge
-Norman Van Vactor, CEO & President, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.
5:00 PM House Fisheries will hear Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled which could include discussion of HB 199, legislation designed as a bulwark against the destruction of salmon habitat in the course of major development projects, like mines.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 21
1:00 PM House Resources Presentation: Proposed Pebble Mine by AK Dept. of Fish & Game, AK Dept. of Natural Resources, and AK Dept. of Environment Conservation
THURSDAY, FEB. 22
8:00 AM Community and Regional Affairs Committee will hear HB 264 Shopping Bag Fees and Recycling.
11:00 AM House and Senate will meet in JOINT SESSION to hear an Annual Address by the Honorable Lisa Murkowski – Senior U.S. Senator.
Note: We sadly expect this address will be focused on praise for ANWR. But we hope some of the controversies spinning at the heart of our democracy are approached and addressed.
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