'PEOPLE ARE HURTING': Palin and Stevens listen to call for help.by ELIZABETH BLUEMINK
Prominent Alaska Natives met with state political leaders Tuesday in Anchorage to discuss what should be done to fix rural Alaska's energy crisis.
The quickly arranged meeting at the Hotel Captain Cook coincides with a major debate under way in Juneau: legislators are weighing a bill to provide one-time energy rebates to all Alaska residents to help them pay for skyrocketing fuel prices.
The timing of the event was no accident.
Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, pointed out that legislation is in flux. "We're making it clear (to legislators) how much people are hurting," she said.
Residents in some remote villages are paying up to $3,500 per month for fuel, and a recent vote by the Alaska Senate to slash Gov. Sarah Palin's proposed energy rebate from $1,200 to $500 is deeply disappointing, according to some Native leaders who spoke at the meeting.
"It's a slap to our face," said Matthew Nicolai, president of Western Alaska's Calista Corp.
Tuesday's roundtable discussion, hosted by several Native organizations, and attended by Palin, Sen. Ted Stevens, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii and many regional Native leaders, focused on short and long-term fixes. Stevens gave a short speech, saying the oil industry in rural Alaska needs to be expanded now and the state should use the income to invest in major renewable energy projects, such as wind and hydropower.
Byron Mallott, a former AFN president, said the state's Native corporations need to assume the leadership role in their regions.
The Native corporations have the most at stake because their shareholders are rooted in rural Alaska, Mallott said.
Also, the corporations have the economic power to tackle the energy problems, he said.
Some regional corporations said Tuesday they are addressing the energy crisis by increasing shareholder dividends, developing their own renewable energy projects to feed village power grids, and lobbying the Legislature.
For example, the village and regional Native corporations based in Nome are installing 18 wind turbines this fall to reduce the community's reliance on expensive diesel. They have promised to the Nome utility that the project will decrease local electric bills, said Jerold Brown, vice president for Bering Straits Regional Corp.