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Our view: Conference's value depends on what lawmakers bring back

It's easy to take members of our Legislature to task for their annual trip to the Energy Council conference in Washington, D.C. There they go, off to the East Coast in the middle of a 90-day legislative session that has yet to resolve billion-dollar budget questions, education funding and oil taxes. Well, right off the bat we'll give them some credit. Only 12 are going this year. That's 20 percent of our Legislature. Last year it was 28, almost half the House and Senate combined. So in an act of restraint and economy, they've cut the number from class field trip to just a sizable delegation.

Is that damning with faint praise?

We understand it can be valuable for legislators to travel, meet with government officials, consultants, experts and colleagues from other states. We understand that the energy industry is changing, that technology, markets and policies are fluid, that understanding Alaska's place in the global picture is important. We understand that such trips can broaden and deepen a lawmaker's knowledge in a short period of time.

All of this can happen. But the question many Alaskans have is: Does it happen?

In the past we've recommended a smaller group make the trip and report back to their colleagues. Send six and call it good. But even more important than the number going is what they bring back.

One online critic asked for something specific -- what benefit to the state do lawmakers bring back from the energy conference that they couldn't get if they didn't go? Alaskans would like to hear something more than stories about eye-opening presentations and showing the flag about ANWR. Even allowing for the long-term benefit of relationship building that takes time to pay off, it would be heartening to see real evidence that lawmakers come back smarter and better able to do right by their constituents on energy matters.

Otherwise it still looks a little too much like the "Energy Break," even if the cherry blossoms aren't out yet in Washington.

BOTTOM LINE: Lawmakers insist Energy Council conference is worthwhile. Show us.