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In search of bipartisanship? Look to the Alaska Senate

Posted: Sunday, February 21, 2010

The negative rancor of partisan politics coming from Congress makes one wonder if true bipartisanship exists at all these days. It is not a good sign when the politics of "no" prevent Congress from passing little initiatives such as setting up a task force on the deficit.

The bill would have established a bipartisan deficit task force charged with producing a tax-and-spending cut plan to be voted upon after the November elections. A pretty simple step, one would think. However, despite a majority of 53 votes, including 16 Republican votes, the measure failed due to seven Republican sponsors voting against their own bill.

Yes, that's right, voting against their own deficit reduction effort in order to score a defeat for President Obama and the Democrats. It's a very sad state of affairs when co-sponsors vote against their own bill just to deliver defeat.

Fortunately, the political situation in the Alaska Legislature is much better, particularly with the Senate Bipartisan Working Group. It is comforting to know that bipartisanship still exists in a few places.

The Senate Bipartisan Working Group is made of 10 Democrats and six Republicans. Judging by the example set by the two co-chairs of the Senate Resources Committee, this Senate coalition is more than just bipartisan in structure, they are actually producing results.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski,D-Anchorage, and Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, traveled around the state holding hearings on community energy needs. Based on these hearings, these senators have advanced a Sustainable Energy Plan, Senate Bill 220, that addresses energy efficiency, energy codes, renewable energy, emerging technology, fuel cooperatives, energy conservation targets and energy policy.

SB 220, by the Senate Resources, is a comprehensive, well-thought-out approach that not only solves some of Alaska's energy woes but also strategically positions Alaska to be a leader in the clean energy economy. Their Sustainable Energy Plan sets out a path for Alaska to become the first state to have 50 percent of the state's electrical generation come from renewable resources by 2025. While former Gov. Sarah Palin may have set the goal, Sens. McGuire and Wielechowski are showing the way to reach this goal as well as how to make energy efficiency an everyday reality.

SB 220 is a far-reaching piece of energy legislation that deserves support from all corners of Alaska. In many ways, this energy legislation will affect Alaskans as much if not more than the natural gas pipeline.

It is designed to help individuals, communities and entrepreneurs reduce their energy demands, develop sustainable energy and/or find help switching to alternative sources of fuel and electrical generation. Sens. McGuire and Wielechowski are to be commended for shining a light on what true bipartisanship can achieve. It is a light much appreciated in these dark days of filibuster gridlock.

• Kate Troll recently served as the executive director for Alaska Conservation Alliance and Alaska Conservation Voters. She is a long-time Alaskan who has more than 18 years of experience in fisheries and coastal management policy and has been working the past four years on climate and energy matters.

She also served as the Regional Fisheries Manager for the Marine Stewardship Council, an international eco-labeling program for wild fisheries. Kate also published a book on promoting the links between environmental protection and economic development. Her column will appear twice a month.



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