Senators, Juneau mayor urge Palin on energy funds

Leaders say strings attached are minimal, will barely be noticed

Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two Anchorage lawmakers this week sent Gov. Sarah Palin a letter urging her to accept millions in stimulus money for home weatherization and energy efficiency.

Palin relented from her early opposition of accepting federal stimulus money and is now willing to accept nearly all of it, that is, except for the $28.6 million Sens. Lesil McGuire and Bill Wielechowski are now asking she accept.

Palin said she feared doing so would require Alaska to adopt a statewide energy code for new and renovated buildings.

"Alaska's vast expanse and differing conditions are not conducive to federally mandated, universal energy code," Palin said when she announced she would not accept weatherization money.

City and state leaders have been working to convince Palin the strings attached to the energy money are so minimal they would barely be noticed.

Most Alaska cities, including Juneau, already have building codes that include energy efficiency, said Mayor Bruce Botelho.

"Contractors, builders, architects and engineers are all looking to build or renovate with energy efficiency in mind," Botelho said. "There is construction taking place in Juneau that goes far beyond what's required in terms of energy efficiency."

The senators and mayor cited a case in Missouri, where the governor has sent the U.S. Department of Energy a letter accepting the stimulus funds based on the fact that most of the state's residents are already covered by local energy efficiency codes.

Gov. Jay Nixon committed the state of Missouri to drafting a model energy code that local communities could chose to implement.

"Alaska could craft a similar letter and receive our share of these funds, without adopting a statewide code," the senators wrote.

Palin said that in the Mat-Su Borough where she lives, fears of federal government and opposition to building codes remain high. She accepted millions in other weatherization and energy money, some in block grants, that did not require a code.

In a March meeting with reporters, Palin said her opposition to the codes was based in ideology, quoting Thomas Jefferson's fear of central government and support for revolution to make her case.

"When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government to another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated," Palin quoted.

Sens. McGuire and Wielechowski said Alaska communities have already adopted such codes, including the state's biggest cities and some smaller ones such as Skagway and Valdez. Others, such as Ketchikan, Wrangell and Soldotna, are in the process of adopting codes, they said.

In addition to community efficiency codes, houses financed by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and Denali Commission must meet the standards as well.

To qualify for the federal money, 90 percent of new and renovated structures would have to be constructed under the code by 2017.

"If we are not already meeting the requirements today, we are so close that we could easily meet them in the required time frame," the senators said.

The issue is not a new one to Palin. She was on the city council in Wasilla in the early 1990s, when the controversial issue came up in Southcentral Alaska communities.

Palin described those debates as "duking it out," and said Alaskans want the opportunity to build their homes and run their businesses as they see fit, without governmental interference.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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