Kenai Borough: No to climate compact

Assembly rescinds its signature Tuesday

Posted: Friday, January 08, 2010

KENAI - After signing onto a global climate change compact in September, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly rescinded its signature Tuesday night.

With the majority of assembly members agreeing that the Alaska Coastal Communities Global Climate Change Compact could do more harm than good for the Kenai Peninsula and its economy, the assembly passed a resolution 6-3 to remove the borough's name from the compact.

The climate change agreement calls for Alaska's coastal communities to collaborate on "strong and immediate action" to combat human-induced global climate change. Some assembly members said they worry that the compact covertly supports cap and trade legislation being discussed in Washington.

The compact states that its signatories agree to "utilize a significant portion of the proceeds from national cap-and-trade legislation, carbon tax, or other sources to fund initiatives in Alaska."

"If you take a closer reading, I think it is implicit. How would we take immediate action? Does that not harken to Waxman-Markey (a cap and trade bill)?" assembly member Gary Superman said. "And if it harkens to something else, what is that? I don't know what the return would be to this community if this (signing the compact) did go down, but I know what the loss would be."

Cap and trade programs attempt to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by imposing a limit on the amount of pollutants companies can emit. Over time, the body governing the cap and trade program will enforce stronger limitation regulations.

Companies that have an easier time reducing pollution can sell their emission permits to companies that have more difficulty reducing emissions. In theory, cap and trade will reduce emissions in the manner that is most economically efficient.

Opponents to cap and trade say the companies will pass the costs of purchasing permits and reducing emissions onto consumers, which could have a negative impact on the entire economy. Opponents are also concerned that other countries will choose not to participate in cap and trade programs. Such countries, cap and trade dissenters say, will allow companies to manufacture goods at a lower cost, possibly encouraging American companies to move operations - and therefore American jobs - overseas.

The borough assembly originally passed an ordinance in its consent agenda agreeing to sign the climate compact.

"Why was there no public outcry at that time?" asked East peninsula assembly representative Sue McClure. The city of Seward along with six other Alaska communities have signed the compact. McClure voted with Mako Haggerty, South peninsula, and Bill Smith, Homer, against Tuesday night's resolution that allowed the borough to remove its signature from the compact.

Assembly member Charlie Pierce accepted some of the responsibility for initially allowing the borough to sign.

"Being a new assembly member I made a mistake. I failed to recognize that when the resolution is presented on the consent agenda that it passes," Pierce said. "Had I understood better, been more educated, I would have removed it from the consent agenda so that the public could weigh in on it."

The Kenai City Council has had much public input during its weeks-long discussion about whether to sign the compact, and the issue was scheduled to be addressed again at a Wednesday meeting. During its discussions, Kenai amended the resolution that would allow it to sign by declaring that it is also committed to continued development non-renewable energy sources.

At the borough assembly meeting Tuesday night, no one from the public spoke in favor of the climate change compact. Tesoro refinery employees, including Vice President Steve Hansen and External Affairs Manager Kip Knudson, voiced their concerns that the compact will be held up in Washington as a demonstration of support for cap and trade legislation.

"They are not going to read all the whereases. All they are going to say is that even the Kenai Peninsula Borough, home of the Tesoro refinery, is supporting this legislation," Knudson said, explaining that cap and trade legislation will cost the refinery money and jobs.

Smith, who originally brought the compact to the borough, said he thinks the compact can help the peninsula.

"The other thing that we have in this state is fishing, and it's a big part of our tourist industry and local economy," Smith said. "Ocean acidification is the evil twin of climate change because of the uptake of carbon into ocean. The compact actually says we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That's the goal."

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