Alaska legislators argue Gov. Sarah Palin is overstating the strings attached to federal stimulus money she's planning to reject. But Palin isn't backing down and said she still won't take the $28.6 million for energy programs.
The co-chairs of the state Senate Resources Committee sent Palin a letter Monday urging her to accept the funds, which could go for uses including energy efficiency grants, retrofitting buildings for less energy use and replacing streetlights with LED bulbs that use less electricity and last longer.
It's the only piece of the $931 million federal stimulus package Palin is turning down, saying she doesn't want the money because it requires a state energy code.
Anchorage Republican Sen. Lesil McGuire, one of the lawmakers who wrote the governor, said in an interview that Palin herself set a goal of Alaska receiving 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2025.
"And then to come back and reject the implementation of an energy saving code the building community hasn't rejected and that other states are readily adopting, I think it sends a hypocritical message," McGuire said.
Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the governor's primary concern with the funds is that she believes energy codes should be a local government decision that considers local needs -- not a state mandate.
"We shouldn't have to change our local laws to accept more of this federal package, as the feds already control much of our young state, thus prohibiting our opportunities to responsibly develop," Palin said in an e-mail.
The Legislature last month voted overwhelmingly to accept all of the stimulus funds -- including the energy money, with legislative leaders saying they saw few of the strings that the governor expressed worry about. Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, the other co-chair of the Resources Committee, said in a written statement that "it makes no sense to turn these funds away when they will just be given to other states. Alaskans need this money far more than residents of many other states with milder climates and substantially lower energy costs."
Wielechowski and McGuire said the state would have eight years to meet the efficiency standards and that much of Alaska already has the energy codes, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer, Juneau and Skagway. Ketchikan, Soldotna and Wrangell are in the process of introducing codes. Many of the structures built in rural communities are built with public funds through agencies like the Alaska Housing Finance Corp., they said, which also already has the energy code requirement.
They said the code would need to apply only to communities with more than 2,500 people, and structures without plumbing or central heating would be exempt. The senators said the Alaska State Home Building Association presented them with a resolution supporting a statewide building code that would include an energy code. It could be tailored to the different needs of various parts of the state, the two legislators said.
Palin's spokeswoman said the governor recognizes some Alaska communities already have energy codes and that many buildings meet the standards.
"However, this does not resolve the issue of local control versus a state mandate and enforcement of energy codes," Leighow said in an e-mail. "The fact that Alaska does not currently have a state energy code indicates that there has not been a statewide consensus for imposing such a code on local communities and Alaska residents."
Palin doesn't think it is worth accepting the federal demand that Alaska impose a statewide energy code just to keep Alaska's share of the energy money from being sent to other states, Leighow said.
MONEY STILL AVAILABLE
McGuire said Alaska was the only state to miss the initial deadline to apply for the energy money. But the U.S. Department of Energy is still holding Alaska's place open -- at least for now -- so long as the state does not officially notify the department that it is rejecting the funds. Federal energy officials aren't saying when a drop-dead date might be.
McGuire said a Palin veto of the Legislature's appropriation of the money might not even be the end of it, if the governor doesn't also write a letter to the federal government spelling out the rejection.
"My request is really that the governor allow it to remain open and an option for us to move forward as we continue to work on energy policy (this summer) and assess the energy code itself, the kind of savings that it could bring Alaskans, and the practicalities of implementing such a code," McGuire said.
Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.