The naming of conferees to an operating budget conference committee marks the beginning of the end of the legislative session, usually. Under Alaska legislative uniform rule 23(d), once the conference committee (composed of three House and three Senate members) is formed, standing and special committees can hold committee hearings with 24-hour notice, instead of the one-week notification required for committees during the rest of the session. The 24-hour rule will remain in effect for the rest of the session, making the finale a fast-moving affair where it pays to be attentive (check #akleg on twitter every few minutes and check the legislative website for committee schedules every evening). The culmination of a long winter of debate and maneuvering happens now. It will be a wild run; people will get their feelings hurt, coalitions will be tested.
The size of the Permanent Fund Dividend, the size of the Operating Budget, the size of an allocation of Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve monies into the corpus of the Permanent Fund, and the size of the changes to statutes pertaining to crime and punishment are some of the big pieces of the puzzle that will come together over the next week. What will this uniquely communication-challenged administration do in response to the legislature’s end product? Will there be a bloodbath of vetoes? Will the Governor call legislators back into a special session to focus on one or all of his constitutional amendment proposals?
We won’t know the answer to this question for a little while. What we do know is that the planet is heating because of our CO2 and methane emissions, and about to enter into a global warming feedback loop making future life uncertain. Unprecedented mass extinctions are already underway. Houston is flooding today because of global warming, and our Congress appears so hobbled by partisanship it cannot stand up to defend itself from a constitutional challenge to its powers, so we should not expect them to craft a coherent climate policy. Whether it is better to ponder what we don’t know, or what we do know, is an open question.
Outside of the main end-of-session fiscal arena, legislative committees are considering some very worthy topics: PFAS Pollution, a Plastic Bag ban, and an Electric Reliability Organization for the railbelt grid. (ERO is the acronym, but I prefer the plural EROs, as it summons the Greek god of love.)
Today in House Resources the committee will hear from municipal officials on the effects of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination in Alaska municipalities. PFAS is a chemical in firefighting foam used by commercial and military airports and is linked to cancer and congenital disabilities and is in drinking water supplies around Alaska. The committee will also hear from the Department of Environmental Conservation, the state agency that oversees water quality. The Dunleavy administration, over the stringent opposition of career scientists within DEC, recently rolled back some PFAS safeguards for drinking water in Alaska.
ELECTRIC RELIABILITY ORGANIZATION FOR THE RAILBELT GRID
On May 9, the House Energy Committee held an initial hearing on HB 151, legislation that would provide statutory authority for the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to certificate and regulate an Electric Reliability Organization, and to oversee integrated resource planning and project pre-approval of large electric generation and transmission facilities. In general, an ERO is an entity that manages and oversees the operation of a unified grid system. Unlike the current system where each railbelt utility controls generation and transmission assets in its service area, under a unified grid (which is how most of the lower 48 electricity is delivered) transmission assets are held by a third party and the management and distribution of electricity is overseen by a system operator. The House Energy Committee developed HB 151 in coordination with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, who requested additional statutory language regarding the complex process of railbelt utility integration. Ultimately, a unified electric grid in southcentral Alaska will help drive down the cost of electricity and lead to more efficient generation, fewer carbon emissions and the integration of more renewable energy.
PLASTIC BAG BAN
HB 81, legislation to ban the use of plastic retail shopping bags (exemption for those clear bags you put loose fruit and vegetables in) is making its way through the House and will be heard on Monday, May 13, at 3:15 p.m. in the House Labor and Commerce Committee. This legislation is in response to the widespread problem of plastics pollution on land and water that impacts marine, terrestrial and avian life-forms. Public reception to the bill has been mostly favorable, although HB 81 has drawn some politely worded opposition from a K-Street plastic industry group called The American Progressive Bag Alliance.
Government Affairs Director
Share this Post