Category Archives: Legislation and Policy

Capital budget shows some love to energy projects

CCHRC is testing how to maximize energy from the EconoBurn, to the right

Energy projects fared fairly well in the nearly $4 billion capital budget passed by the Alaska Legislature earlier this month.

“We owe the Interior delegation some thanks. It was a joint effort on the Senate side and the House side,” said John Davies, energy policy specialist at CCHRC.

CCHRC got $180,000 for infrastructure to support a $2 million addition to the building that is currently in design; and $61,600 to develop and study a wood-fired boiler and thermal storage system. Researchers are testing how much they can conserve firewood and curb particulate pollution by transferring extra heat from the boiler to a 1,400-gallon water tank to use for heating.

Additionally, the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. was granted $126 million to extend the very popular weatherization and home energy rebate programs started in 2008.

Other important statewide energy projects received funding, including $10 million for Golden Valley’s Eva Creek Wind Farm, $2 million for a tidal power project in Cook Inlet, $65 million for the Susitna hydroelectric project and nearly $2 million for a geothermal project at Mt. Spurr (in Cook Inlet).

The capital budget still needs to be approved by Gov. Sean Parnell.

Few show up to address upcoming borough air quality changes

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Friday, January 14, 2011:

Only a few residents addressed the upcoming air quality ordinance during public comments preceding the sparsely attended Borough Assembly meeting Thursday evening.

The air quality ordinance (2011-03) was reframed after voters in October’s municipal election approved a proposition eliminating limits on the types of wood stoves that can be used and prohibiting the fining of borough residents for smoke emissions or burning certain items.

The revised ordinance will be up before the assembly for public comment at its Jan. 27 meeting.

At issue is the borough’s attempt to meet federal clean air standards by 2014 without turning air quality regulation over to the state.

EPA eases up on biomass over global warming

From The Associated Press, Wednesday, January 12, 2011:

Under pressure from some members of Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is easing up on regulating global warming pollution from facilities that burn biomass for energy.

The agency says it needs more time to figure out whether biomass is a green fuel.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Wednesday notified members of Congress who complained that new rules regulating industrial carbon dioxide emissions would make it hard to develop new biomass energy plants that burn trees and branches thinned out of forests.

Developing biomass energy is part of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s plan for putting people back to work by thinning forests at high danger of wildfire.

The EPA’s decision excludes biomass from a rule requiring large polluters to reduce their heat-trapping pollution.

As Arctic melts, U.S. ill equipped to tap resources

From The Washington Post, Monday, January 10, 2011:

Flying over the Arctic Circle, the Coast Guard C130 rumbled as it alternated between 500 and 2,500 feet, its high-tech equipment quietly observing the thickness and stretch of ice along Alaska’s northern border.

Cold air rushed through the open cargo door as some musk oxen and the occasional walrus passed below.

Like the rest of the 2.5-million-square-foot area at the top of the world, this chunk of the U.S. Arctic is melting quickly because of accelerated climate change. The prospect of newly thawed sea lanes and a freshly accessible, resource-rich seabed has nations jockeying for position. And government and military officials are concerned the United States is not moving quickly enough to protect American interests in this vulnerable and fast-changing region.

“We’re not doing OK,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nahshon Almandmoss as he flew the massive plane on the nine-hour flight from Kodiak to the northern border then down along the coast through the Bering Strait. “We definitely don’t have the infrastructure available to operate for an extended period of time in the Arctic in the summer, much less in the winter when it’s more critical for logistical purposes.”

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has identified the Arctic as an area of key strategic interest. The U.S. military anticipates the Arctic will become “ice-free” for several summer weeks by 2030, possibly as early as 2013.

Continue reading: As Arctic melts, U.S. ill equipped to tap resources

Senator unveils plan to fund energy projects statewide

From The Tundra Drums, Thursday, January 6, 2011:

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, this week pre-filed her proposal to create a mechanism for funding energy projects throughout Alaska, said a press release from the Legislature.

“Over the last two years, the Legislature has made a concerted effort to address the energy challenges facing Alaskans by fostering renewable energy, encouraging innovation, and increasing efficiency,” said Senator McGuire. “Although we have made substantial progress, the challenges ahead are daunting. Billions of dollars need to be invested in energy infrastructure over the next 10 years in every part of Alaska. With oil production declining and our long term fiscal future in question, we cannot continue to rely on the same old solutions and regional politics to solve our energy challenges.

Senator McGuire’s proposal, Alaska’s Sustainable Strategy for Energy Transmission and Supply (ASSETS), would expand the authority of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) to invest in energy infrastructure projects. The bill proposes the state expand AIDEA’s balance sheet by investing $2 billion in surplus revenues into AIDEA over the next three years and that AIDEA’s authorization to issue bonds for energy infrastructure projects is increased to $2 billion.

Continue reading: Senator unveils plan to fund energy projects statewide

Fairbanks borough pollution plan goes before assembly for final touches

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wednesday, December 29, 2010:

An air pollution plan that has so far taken more than a year to push through for the Fairbanks North Star Borough will no longer carry any fines or enforcement power if a revised version is approved next month.

Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins revised the air quality ordinance to comply with a ballot measure passed in October banning the borough from regulating home heating devices. The proposed ordinance will go before the Borough Assembly for first reading Jan. 13.

“We had an air quality plan passed. We barely entered winter, to see if it would have an effect on the large emissions we have in our airshed, when voters said ‘No thanks’ in October,” Hopkins said.

Now enforcement falls to the state and could end up being tougher than local control would have been, Hopkins said.

An advisory panel unanimously approved the updated plan Monday, but only because it had no choice, said Charles Machetta, chairman of the Air Pollution Control Commission. The updated version reduces a mandatory program based on hard limits and penalties to a voluntary program based on education and expert assistance.

“It’s a pretty toothless document,” Machetta said. “The sentiment of the commission is, we hated the document, we hated what happened with Proposition A (the ballot measure) and our hands are completely tied.”

The revised plan also transfers enforcement power to the state, which abides by similar air quality regulations and could enforce compliance through civil action rather than fines.

Continue reading: Fairbanks borough pollution plan goes before assembly for final touches

EPA forms group to increase tribal role in pollution prevention

From The Tundra Drums, Tuesday, December 21, 2010:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is forming a new tribal committee to provide tribes with an opportunity for greater input on issues related to toxic chemicals and pollution prevention, the agency said in a press release.

The move is part of Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s priority to build strong tribal partnerships and expand the conversation on environmental justice.

EPA is establishing a National Tribal Toxics Committee (NTTC) that will give tribes a forum for providing advice on the development of EPA’s chemical management and pollution prevention programs that affect tribes. Given the uniqueness of tribal cultures, communities and environmental problems, the forum will help EPA better tailor and more efficiently address a variety of issues, including preventing poisoning from lead paint, expanding pollution prevention and safer chemical initiatives in Indian country, and better evaluating unique chemical exposures on tribal lands.

“This new committee will help increase our already close collaboration and communication with federally recognized tribes and intertribal organizations on critical issues relating to chemical safety and pollution prevention that affect Native peoples,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “We are committed to reducing toxic exposures and increasing pollution prevention among tribal communities, and to respecting tribal sovereignty, culture and heritage.”

Continue reading: EPA forms group to increase tribal role in pollution prevention

EPA, others balk at Tanana rail bridge

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wednesday, December 15, 2010:

Federal environmental regulators said Friday a bridge proposed to span the Tanana River represents too big of an environmental risk.

The concern may not stop the project, which has attracted strong advocacy from public officials in the Interior, but it represents at least a crimp in the plan. Managers hope to start construction next year on a bridge-and-levee project that could last four years.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote its letter of objection Friday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It follows a similar letter sent in November and arrives alongside similar concerns from several other public agencies.

The Corps is processing a permit application for the project’s sponsor, the Alaska Railroad Corp. The railroad, with funding from the Department of Defense and the state Legislature, wants the bridge to help the military, a major client, get year-round access to huge military training grounds south of the river.

The 3,300-foot bridge would be the longest in the state.

School district tightens air quality restrictions for recess, practices

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wednesday, December 15, 2010:

The school district recently tightened air quality guidelines that govern when students are allowed outside for school-related activities.

Recess and practices should be moved inside or canceled when particulate matter levels are 176 micrograms per cubic meter or higher, levels deemed unhealthy by the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

“Clearly we want kids to be physically active and we want them to be able to get exertion with good air quality,” said superintendent Pete Lewis.

The borough scales air quality into six levels, with level one being “good,” level six being “hazardous” and level three being “unhealthy.” The school district shifted its ranges about 20 micrograms lower in November to match the borough.

When particulate levels are between 81 and 175 micrograms per cubic meter for one hour — unhealthy for sensitive groups — recess should be limited and athletic coaches should give athletes extra recovery and keep extra water and cell phones handy. Between 176 and 300 micrograms — unhealthy for everyone — recess and all practices should move inside. Competitions can be held outside with extra precautions. Above 301 micrograms — very unhealthy for everyone — all outdoor activity, practices and games should be canceled.

High particulate levels usually coincide with cold temperatures.

Fairbanks Borough Assembly considers $1 million in upgrades to landfill

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Saturday, December 10, 2010:

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly is looking at more than $1 million in new funding for an ongoing landfill project on South Cushman.

The project includes two major parts: sealing sections of the landfill and building a line that circulates moisture through the closed sections. The first phase of the three-year project was completed during the summer and cost about $6 million.

Both parts were undertaken so the landfill will comply with federal and state regulations. They also align with plans for methane capture project the public works department has on the drawing board.

On Thursday, the assembly moved forward with two sources of state funding for the project. The rest of the funding comes from tipping fees paid by municipalities and other customers.

Landfill managers are required to continually close cells as they fill, said Scott Johnson, director of public works for the borough. This prevents landfill gas, which contains methane and carbon dioxide, from escaping at the top and the bottom of each cell.

“We seal it with a chemically impervious membrane,” he said.

That membrane is buried by gravel, soil and grass, “so you see a grassy hillside,” he said.

Parts of the old landfill and newer landfill were closed this summer. The assembly requested $340,000 in additional funding from Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to go toward the same project.

“I wanted to grab on to that because it’s 100 percent reimbursement,” Johnson said.