• Both candidates reflect Homer values for environment, outdoors but differ on process
By Naomi Klouda
Democrat candidate Liz Diament and Republican incumbent Rep. Paul Seaton take similar stands as moderates on matters like opposing oil tax give-aways to big industry developers, but differ in emphasis on pushing back against Pebble and gas development permitting.
At the Homer Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate between Seaton and Diament last week at the Kachemak Community Center, the two candidates had a last chance to debate prior to General Election Tuesday.
Moderator KBBI News Director Aaron Selbig asked eight questions posed by the business community and compiled by HCOC Director Monte Davis. Unlike previous contentious debates for the state House and Senate seats, Diament and Seaton’s positions came more into focus.
In introductions, Seaton said he’s lived in Homer 30 years as a local business man owning rental property investments and operating a fish tender in Homer and Prince William Sound.
“I’ve learned about your priorities these last few years. As I’ve served in Juneau, I have incorporated your thoughts and concerns,” Seaton said. “I promised to stay in touch with residents so I did a weekly email newsletter to tell what is happening in Juneau… I do that every week, and hopefully it tells you happenings and things that are controversial or have significance for the Homer area.”
House peers have coined the phrase “Seatonizing a bill,” to signify the many amendments he tends to add on. The amendments often result from constituent input. “Over 600 people express concerns to me so those amendments make the legislative process work for us on the Lower Peninsula.”
Diament, 33, said she chose to run because she doesn’t feel like her lifestyle is represented on the Peninsula. “My lifestyle, my age group, my concerns,” she said. She has lived on the Peninsula nine years. Diament has made her living working in small businesses, including the Fritz Creek Store, as the Fritz Creek postal clerk, for the Seldovia Ferry Office and as a film production assistant. She’s an avid Scrabble player who participates in the Scrabble Tournament at Land’s End. She’s also an outdoorswoman enjoying abundant hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities. She has volunteered at many organizations, including the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club, Friends of the Homer Library and Cook Inletkeeper.
The first question asked whether they were comfortable with the current scheme of ACES or would they change to a system based on production?
“ACES is a good system. It seems to be far superior to the previous systems and has stimulated new exploration,” Diament said. “My understanding as part of Aces is that we, the state, repay part of the capital costs for new drilling. I believe that is a huge incentive for companies to explore here.”
But the problem expressed by oil companies is on the progressivity tax. “The oil companys are saying that such high taxes at these high oil prices lessens their incentive for filling the pipeline. One of the fixes is to cap the progressivity at a certain point,” she said.
Oil companies always complain about taxes impeding profits. “That’s part of bargaining on behalf of their interests. Our legislature should be bargaining on behalf of Alaskan interests,” Diament added.
Seaton said the topic of oil taxes has risen every year since he started in legislature and it has changed several times. Under ACES’s progressivity system, as profit margins increase, the amount of taxes paid also goes up. But it also allows them to control the tax rate.
“This allows oil companies to reinvest in Alaska and all of that investment becomes a cost. It reduces their profit per barrel so it reduces their tax. It’s what lets them invest and quickly draw down their tax rate,” he said.
Seaton was challenged about why he brought the governor’s tax reduction bill to the floor. He said he did so in a request for more information. That information arrived from Parnell’s administration during a special session and showed severe deficits by $1 billion a year in the capital budget and $600 million in the general budget. Seaton could not support it and the governor withdrew the bill.
Both Seaton and Diament expressed relief that funding for the Homer Area Natural Gasline finally passed on its third try. Seaton was heavily involved in shepherding the funding request through the process. He believes there is a role in government to support infrastructure projects like the gasline.
“I believe natural gas is something we should all be able to obtain in Alaska,” he said. The state funds big wind, hydro and more recently, tidal projects as much as possible. He sees natural gas as an interim solution until renewables energy solutions are found.
“I’m glad the funding was approved for the gasline this time around. The state should support, and does support, infrastructure development all over the state,” Diament responded. Lower energy costs will bring down health care costs on the Peninsula in hospital savings. She would continue to advocate for infrastructure projects important to a growing population.
Homer’s trunk line funding was approved, but the distribution lines to homes is left to private funding. Seaton said Fairbanks has made a request to gain the distribution line funding to homes. Seaton said he has an eye on this because it may be possible for Homer to make a similar plea for a subsidy.
As for the oil and gas boom in Cook Inlet, what it means for the future of the Kenai Peninsula and Homer, the state has a role in regulations, Diament said.
“I hope it means a diversified economy and more affordable energy. The state’s role is to make sure these projects do supply jobs… as well as making sure the companies with these leases are following all environmental policies and are responsible corporations,” Diament said.
She talked about big local concerns about blowout contingency plans and the ability for cleaning up spills on the part of the new corporations moving in.
“I would do my best to advocate for these concerns and make sure these get addressed at the permitting levels. The state is always interested in bringing industry and development to areas and I would also try to guide that development toward renewable industries as well as non-renewable resource based industries,” Diament said.
The boom is a real positive for the Kenai Peninsula, Seaton said. Multiple players in Cook Inlet include the work close to Homer on North Fork Road and the potential for more wells on the Lower Peninsula. This will bring the cost of natural gas down since it is derived locally.
Diament said more focus is needed on renewables. She also asked for more comment from Seaton on the environmental protections on West Eagle and Cosmopolitan Units leased by Buccaneer.
Seaton responded that a “robust process of environmental controls and permitting requirements” function as a protection. “One reason the (Endeavour) jack up rig is sitting out there (at the Homer Deep Water Dock) is because it needed work to be done. They need to get it up to snuff before that rig goes to work,” he said.
This proves the state does have a rigorous permitting process, he said.
On striking a balance between commercial and sport fishing interests for Lower Cook Inlet, Diament said she believes both sides should be advocating for non-political fisheries management on the Board of Fish.
“I also believe issues like the Pebble Mine and trawling bycatch should unite both sides of this resource issue. Both the mine and the trawling bycatch threaten the very resource that we are seeking to divide up between these interests,” she said.
Diament challenged Seaton: “What has he done to limit bycatch and prevent the pebble mine from threatening the sustainiability of the Bristol Bay ecosystem?”
Seaton noted commercial and sport fishery allocation matters are kept out of the legislature and handled by the BOF. He has been “very much engaged” in the dialogue and was a founding member of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. He also has worked on reducing bycatch and lobbies everyone up to the governor to achieve bycatch reductions, he responded. This spring, a new 15 percent bycatch limit on trawl caught salmon was achieved for the first time ever.
Diament said another main issue threatening fisheries is Pebble Mine. What would Seaton do to prevent Pebble Mine if that’s what he wants to do, she asked.
“We need to work so everyone is a winner on commercial and sport fishing (matters),” he said. But to be asked ‘How are you going to vote before you have a hearing on a bill,’ isn’t a fair question. “I have to look at the permit – I am not at all willing to trade a renewable resource for a non renewable resource. But right now there is no proposal on the table. It’s hard to make a judgement when you don’t know what you are making a judgment on.”
Candidates were asked about the new Emission Control Area rules now being implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency. In Alaska, where 99 percent of products are shipped north, a new 8 percent cost increase will need to be added on to products. The State of Alaska has filed a lawsuit to block implementation.
Seaton said anytime you talk about increasing costs by 8 percent it will cause a huge impact. The Legislature doesn’t get much say on the governor’s agenda, but Alaska has an advantage that could help the state benefit and bring down the carbon footprint, he said. “It’s a good thing we have a lot of natural gas. You can make (low carbon sulfur fuel) out of gas,” he said. “We have the opportunity to use it not only for ourselves but to sell it for use in the other states.”
Diament acknowledged it as a complex issue and she does support the governor’s challenge but questions the ultimate financial costs of lawsuits the state may not win.
“We do need to be proactive preventing our air and water from being polluted… but including southeast and southcentral in this emissions control area will disproportionately affect Alaskans’ cost of living, compared with the western coast of the Lower 48,” she said.
The EPA admits it hasn’t done air quality studies off Alaska’s coast. Since that is the case, requiring the new rules to impact 200 miles off the coastline could be reduced to 50 miles off. That should be sufficient for environmental protections but wouldn’t be so punitive to Alaska consumers, she said.
Seaton agreed a full analysis of the EPA requirements are necessary to see if they are justifiable.
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