• Homer visit gives opportunity to update on Legislature
By Naomi Klouda
Sen. Peter Micciche packed in an audience of about 75 people at Homer City Hall Friday night on his first stop in the home district since leaving for Juneau in January.
After his own presentation on legislative priorities, residents drilled Micciche in a spirited debate on the medical-abortion bill, oil tax cuts, school vouchers and his own role as a ConocoPhillips employee. The meeting lasted more than two hours.
Micciche’s three priorities for his first session in the Alaska Senate are to develop a responsible budget tied to revenue production, an increase in oil production and finding a statewide energy plan.
“We have some tough choices. There’s challenges to revenue in the next few years and (work) reducing the decline curve in North Slope oil,” Micciche said. The governor’s bill to increase drilling incentives so more oil flows into the Trans Alaska Pipeline, Senate Bill 21, isn’t the way to do it unless the percentage of Alaska (Base) tax ends up higher than the proposed 25 percent,” Micciche said.
In other oil producing states, the percentage of revenue is higher than in Alaska. If SB 21 ratchets up its percentage from 25 to 33 or 35, Micciche said he may well support it. The governor is asking for 25 percent. When the bill was in the Resource Committee, Micciche increased the tax on the companies from 25 to 35 percent, which resulted in the 66 percent government take that was supported by Gov. Hammond.
“Otherwise, I’m not inclined.” After being strengthened through amendments in the Senate, Micciche said, “It’s a better bill. There are tax credits for Alaska manufacturing and tax credits for Alaska hiring. We have enough votes to do something wrong. It’s my job to make sure we don’t.”
The senator supports opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “There’s a good chance the offshore program won’t pan out. We may be able to trade offshore for onshore” oil and gas development, he said. “Most folks on the environmental side will see that as an improvement. And (the State of Alaska) gets a higher share in onshore revenue.”
Senate Joint Resolution 3, in support for ANWR drilling, passed unanimously in the senate and is on the way to Washington D.C. The concern about natural gas shortages in Southcentral is fueling motivation for finding new areas for development, he said. Cook Inlet fields will not be developed fast enough to fill the gap. The Cook Inlet basin also may not hold enough natural gas volume to carry the load of future need, he said.
While making more fossil fuel production possible, renewables need to be planned into the future. “As a state, we have a tendency to have a distaste for long term planning and we pay for that dearly. Diesel’s the right answer almost never, but we continue to do that throughout rural Alaska,” he said.
Micciche defended his vote helping to pass the cruise ship discharge bill that eases restrictions on sewerage allowed to go into the sea.
Anchorage’s waste water would be the equivalent of 60 cruise ships discharging per day. Yet, if waste water were an apples-to-apples comparison, Anchorage’s waste water would be the equivalent of hundreds of cruise ship discharges.
“And how can I put this delicately? They only remove the ‘floaters’,” he said. Cruise ship waste discharge is made more sanitary than municipal charges, so he wants to work with converting smaller communities to systems that give off fewer polluting discharges. He asked for volunteers to serve on a task force for addressing this. For larger communities, like Anchorage, the cost is prohibitive for now.
SB 59, a bill that gives permitting powers for gas and oil exploration in an area, is one Micciche supports so far. This would speed up the race to gain more fuel.
On the bill outlining medically necessary abortions: Currently, the task before the legislature is to create a definition for physicians to follow in the wake of a ballot measure passed last fall requiring parental notification for when a teenager has an abortion. The task is to set the definition into law.
“Physicians don’t have a definition. I’m pro life, but I also don’t believe in laws in Alaska that are going to harass someone,” he said. “This is an emotional issue – but it isn’t questioning the right to chose.” The bill supports providing abortion in cases of incest and rape, he said.
Micciche isn’t certain yet about SJR9. That bill would allow Alaska to adopt a school voucher system, if it is approved by voters in a ballot measure. He was urged by Kachemak Bay Professor Catherine Knotts to strengthen, not weaken, public education by not supporting giving public money to private schools in a voucher system.
On HB 77, a change in regulations granting water reservation rights to government agencies rather than private or tribal groups, Micciche said he does not support it unless he sees better guarantees of adequate water flow in anadromous streams and rivers.
On HB 69, the message to Congress to keep its hands off Alaskan’s gun rights, Micciche said that while he is a “gun guy,” the bill needs adjustment. “I don’t know that we need to be threatening the feds. But I think the message is right.”
HB 131, to gain regulator help for municipalities over derelict vessels, is Rep. Paul Seaton’s bill in the House. Micciche will also be working on companion legislation.
Personal legislation: He is sponsoring legislation to collect court fees for funding legal services. He wants to establish a Vietnam Veterans Day to honor that era’s vets. To bring greater awareness to toxins spread in remote Alaska by Bureau of Land Management legacy wells, he is co-sponsoring legislation pushing for clean-up funding from the federal government.
The question and answer portion took up the better part of the two-hour visit.
One of the more contentious Q and A’s dealt with Micciche’s role as ConocoPhillips’ LNG plant manager while he is also a senator deciding tax matters for oil and gas corporations. Sierra Club Alaska Chapter Chair Pam Brodie asked if he were on a Conoco salary while campaigning for the Senate last summer.
“I don’t know anyone who is paid to campaign. You can’t use certain copy machines – that’s all stuff you have to record (through the Alaska Public Offices Commission) and you are expected to be compliant,” Micciche responded. “Otherwise, they can throw you in jail.”
That happened when Bill Allen, owner of VECO, a support services company for oil companies, spread bribery money around the Alaska Legislature, he noted. It lead to at least four legislative convictions.
Micciche complained that other legislators occupy positions that could also be used to further pet causes. But people don’t question them as much.
“I’m no different from all the other folks that have another job. They (early legislators) were miners, fishermen, loggers, and later they were oil and gas people when that came around. Physicians can drop medical bills on the table, and labor attorneys can do labor bills, but the second there is an oil and gas issue, it gets looked at more,” he said.
Alaskans are hypocritical in not hating the company that sells them iPads, he said, but hating the company that sells them oil. “Why is that different?”
Brodie and others attending the meeting tried to explain the difference in terms of the environmental and financial need to watch the industry. Micciche insisted that all industry interests need to be watched in Juneau.
Kate Finn and others wanted to talk about the legislative intrusion into a woman’s right to have an abortion. “I pay for the (Iraq-Afghanistan) wars. Someone else may not want to pay for abortions … It’s legislative misogyny,” she said.
Micciche responded that the task before the legislature is narrowed to definition of “medically necessary.” It doesn’t challenge abortion rights, which are a “law of the land,” he said. But in District 0, 68 percent voted for parental consent of abortion. He feels this means many are pro-life.
Another person objected to pending legislation that uses credit information when people renew their insurance. Micciche said this is only a small change “blown out of proportion because some people think Republicans are bad people.” But it too deals with a narrow question since insurance companies are already allowed to charge more in cases of bad credit.
Asked about Pebble Mine’s progress, the senator said he believes in the mine being able to go through its permitting process. “If they get to a development plan that is manageable and meets water and air quality, I could get there. But when I saw the (original) drawings, I was also intimidated and I’m not convinced they could get there,” he said.
“I believe in logging, mining, commercial fishing, tourism, oil and gas. That’s what we do in Alaska. Am I willing to trade our reason for living here for one of these resources? I am not.”
As a commercial fisherman, Micciche said he is skeptical that large of mine wouldn’t damage the salmon runs. One solution is for the state to forward-plan which lands are appropriate for development and which ones are not.
Residents also wanted to hear about funding status on projects like the new fire station on Skyline Drive. So far, $50 million in projects are requested throughout the district. Skyview’s fire station is on the City of Homer Capital Priority List, and should therefore stand a chance, he said.
On East End Road construction, long on the list for the past 10 years, the project is stymied by not-yet-acquired property easements. Resident Mike McCarthy asked about the ramifications of planned oil-gas development at the end of East End Road, expressing concern the road can’t handle it.
“The Governor’s ‘roads to resources’ (program) sucks. He can’t even keep the roads we have now in good shape,” McCarty said.
On the “Lucy lawless” bill proposed by Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, (HR 92), another resident expressed concern it would slap a felony on people who complain about a development project. “It gets complicated for people to have a voice,” said Candy Rohrer.
Micciche responded that while businesses invest millions of dollars to pursue a project, they don’t always conduct an amount of public outreach that is fair to all stake holders. “I’m worried about people trying to quiet our voices at the initial stages,” he agreed.
Brad Faulkner wanted to continue the tax talk in his objections to SB 21. If it passes, “we’ll be broke” in a few years, he said, quoting statistics showing lost revenue numbers.
Micciche believes the governor’s proposal for a 25 tax is too low. He said he won’t vote to support the bill if Alaskans aren’t given a greater share.
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