Trouble ahead

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 19:00

Talk is cheap. Unfortunately, natural gas won’t be for much longer.

That’s the message being sent by local utilities, whose predictions of a gas shortage have caused some folks to wonder seriously if they wouldn’t be better off burning wood.

It’s a situation economists and engineers have warned of, yet state officials and legislators have done precious little to solve the problem. Sure, we’ve heard promises of a gas line for years — generations, even — yet here we sit with no solution in sight. A proposed Susitna River dam has also been proposed as a fix, but that project remains in its infancy.

Interestingly, you don’t hear a lot of talk out of Juneau about this problem. Instead, legislators continue to fight over oil production taxes in a battle that threatens to take up yet another legislative session.

There’s a good reason elected officials aren’t talking about the coming gas crisis: They don’t want to take the blame.

But who else is there? Instead of working together to come up with long-term solutions, the Alaska Legislature has become a body more concerned with battling over political points. Rather than looking toward the future, legislators have chosen to instead bury their heads in the sand, hoping a magic bullet — new finds in Cook Inlet, for example — will suddenly appear to save the day.

Ain’t gonna happen.

When Alaskans’ energy bills go up — and they will — it’s likely our legislators will find someone else to blame for the problem. But they’ve known the shortage was coming for a decade, and they’ve consistently promised they’d fix things. They haven’t. A gas line remains a pipe dream and nobody seems to have a good answer for where we’ll get our energy in the coming years.

When Alaska — an energy-rich state — is forced to import natural gas from Outside, we’re going to look foolish in the eyes of the nation. Someone should be held accountable.

Unfortunately, an even bigger crisis may be on the horizon. State officials have been warning that declining oil revenues and massive state spending have set us up for an uncertain fiscal future. Yet when pressed to cut budgets or put more money aside in reserves, legislators have answered by sending more pork home to their districts and pretending Alaska will remain flush with cash indefinitely.

It won’t.

The majority of Alaska’s legislators call themselves fiscal conservatives. It’s time they start acting like it.

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