Begich Calls for Energy Action Now
Commonwealth North speech focused on short & long-term plans
Noting that rising energy prices are putting enormous strain on Alaskans’ pocketbooks, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich emphasized the need for elected officials and others to focus on both short and long-term plans to save on energy costs.
In a lunchtime speech to Commonwealth North, one of Alaska’s leading public policy organizations, Begich announced plans to introduce the Family Account to Save on Transportation (FAST) Act. Modeled after medical savings accounts, which allow individuals to set aside pre-tax dollars for medical costs, the FAST Act would allow employers to set up pre-tax transportation savings accounts to help offset the pain of high gas prices on Alaskans.
“With gas prices already more than four dollars a gallon, the average price is more than 95 cents higher than this time last year. In addition to focusing on long-term solutions for energy prices, the FAST Act could bring some short-term relief, allowing Alaskans to put some pre-tax money aside to help offset those costs,” Begich said.
The FAST Act would be designed to expire in two years so there would be no long-term burden on the federal budget.
Begich also focused on the need to bring new energy sources online for reliable electricity prices in the future and to buffer power companies from the price shocks of rising oil and gas prices. He said alternative energy sources such as wind, tidal and geothermal are available in Southcentral Alaska. In particular, he said, serious consideration needs to be given to projects at Mount Spurr and Fire Island.
“I know there is a lot of back and forth, but we have to be honest with ourselves. The days of cheap gas in Southcentral are over. We need to weigh projects based on future fossil fuel prices,” Begich said. He added state and local governments are the ignition to moving forward on renewable energy and energy efficiency.
In the U.S. Senate, Begich said he will continue to push for:
· Increased Energy Conservation Block Grant funding – something he championed as Mayor of Anchorage and now as senator. More than $15 million has come to Alaska communities;
· Increased State Energy Program funding – supporting the Alaska Energy Authority and their current focus on increasing efficiency in the business sector;
· Extending tax credits for renewable energy and fuels; and
· Decreased dependence on foreign oil.
“The fact is, developing Alaska’s oil and gas resources buys our country 100 years of energy security,” Begich said. “We can offset foreign imports from unfriendly countries by developing right here, right now.”
Begich reminded the audience he has introduced legislation to create an Arctic Outer Continental Shelf coordinator, modeled after legislation the late Sen. Ted Stevens passed establishing a federal gas pipeline coordinator, to work across federal agencies to promote and streamline development in Alaska’s OCS.
He said he will also push to align the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department on standards for air permits for offshore drilling. Currently, the EPA handles air permits for the Arctic OCS, while Interior approves permits for offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Begich said Interior’s procedures and rules are smoother and more efficient than the EPA.