House Speaker Adds Agrium to Refinery Assistance Bill

Gov. Sean Parnell’s $150 million-dollar bill to subsidize Alaska’s oil refineries grew to $200 million today, when House Speaker Mike Chenault expanded it to include the Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski.

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The plant has been closed for years, but Agrium said last year it’s considering reopening it.

Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, says he’s been talking to the company for a while about some kind of state incentive to reopen the plant, which has been closed since 2008. Then, a few days ago, the governor proposed a bill to help refineries.  Chenault says Agrium recognized the possibility.

“Well, we’ve been looking, and this happens to be a vehicle,” Chenault explained, “and they did bring it up and said ‘Hey, could we qualify for this?’ So we investigated it and drafted up the amendment.”

Chenault says bringing the plant online could create 450 jobs in his district, plus cheap fertilizer for Mat-Su farmers. House Bill 287 would provide a refinery up to $10 million a year, in tax credits or cash, for five years. To qualify, a company would have to spend $25 million on its infrastructure. The Parnell Administration proposed it to help Petro Star cope with the high price of North Slope crude. Petro Star has two refineries, so it could get up to $100 million over five years. Tesoro and Agrium would qualify for $50 million each. If a company buys the Flint Hills refinery in North Pole, it would also qualify for $50 million.

Democrats who opposed the bill before said the addition of Agrium makes it worse. Sen. Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat, says she’s angry this bill is moving while funding for education remains uncertain.

“It galls me. It seems like the Legislature hasn’t met a tax incentive or tax credit we didn’t endorse,  if it’s for the oil industry.”

It’s as if, she says, industry gets what it wants and kids get the crumbs. Chenault dismissed such comparisons, saying that’s just the Democratic mantra.

The bill cleared the House Rules Committee in about six minutes this morning and heads next to the House floor.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz