Posted Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - 11:26 am
With recently-turned-Republican Donald Trump and still-not-a-Democrat Socialist Bernie Sanders leading the latest primary polls from New Hampshire, America is not only getting what it wants, but what it deserves.
Trump and Sanders represent the full-on caricaturization of politics that seems like something straight out of a Hollywood comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifinakis. Unfortunately, they are all too real — the inevitable product of our shallow, reality-show society that currently favors boorish behavior and snake oil salesmen of a Socialist utopia that can be achieved if we just tax those evil rich people and corporations a little more.
What Trump and Sanders are proving is that you can get a lot of people to show up to see you say something stupid, or to promise you a bunch of free stuff.
The anger at the system of crony capitalism is something both Trump and Sanders are tapping into — an anger that is more than justified — but neither is actually qualified to fix the problem.
Trump, a self-identified crony capitalist, is part of the problem. He explained his donations to the likes of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats as something all business people do: spread the money around to all the politicians and cash in favors no matter who is in power. Nobody may be able to buy him with campaign donations, but that certainly doesn’t mean Trump won’t be sympathetic to his business partners and wealthy friends when they come calling.
Sanders is a self-identified Socialist who does not make the connection between the size of government and its relationship to crony capitalism. The bigger the government, the worse the crony capitalism. Growing government and bloating the regulatory state is the reason big corporations can wield so much influence: they are the only ones who can afford to play the game.
In other news, the leading Democrat candidate, Hillary the Inevitable Part II, has finally been forced to turn over her private email server and her attorney has likewise handed the FBI a couple thumb drives full of State Department emails that probably contain hundreds if not thousands holding classified information.
It’s worth noting that several former government employees in recent years, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, have been charged and convicted for either holding classified material at home, or failing to ensure its secure storage.
She has also filed a sworn affidavit with a federal judge stating she has turned over all work-related emails. Should that turn out to be false, she and her husband could hold the ignoble distinction of each possessing a perjury conviction.
At least the media has finally come around to covering the email story now that the FBI is investigating, but you can forgive them for that as they’ve been too busy ignoring Planned Parenthood in favor of more sympathetic stories about the tragic demise of Cecil the Lion and Hitchbot.
These are truly bizarro times we are living in, when the Environmental Protection Agency causes a massive mine waste disaster, the Pentagon cannot secure the emails of its Joint Chiefs from Russian hacks, and the President and Secretary of State are twisting arms in Congress on behalf of Iranian theocrats.
Speaking of our Iran deal “partners,” the Russians, it turns out they have been violating the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty for at least five years, and we’ve known about it yet done nothing.
This is the same Russia that hosted Qasem Soleimani — the head of Iran’s vicious Quds Force responsible for hundreds of American deaths — barely a week after the deal was announced. Soleimani is barred from traveling outside Iran under the U.N. sanctions Russia is party to, but hey, what are ya gonna do?
Any opposition to the Iran deal is only coming from “warmongers” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, (according to moveon.org) or those who make common cause with the chanters of “Death to America” (according to Obama).
We learned in the last week that China — another Iran deal “partner” that is also responsible for pilfering the sensitive personnel files of some 22 million Americans who applied for government jobs — has been reading Cabinet officials’ private account emails since at least 2010.
In the case of the Cabinet officials — and in particular Hillary Clinton — it is tragic that in their quest to keep their records away from the U.S. Congress and Freedom of Information Act requests they have instead shared them with any foreign-state actor that can execute a simple phishing scheme.
Meanwhile, ISIS just slaughtered another 2,000 Christians in Iraq, riots and unrest are spreading around the nation in protest of the police state, the budget deficit swelled in July by 58 percent from a year ago, and the stock market is sinking on China’s latest currency war and the looming interest rate hikes that threaten to pop yet another equities bubble.
And the media is obsessed with what Trump may or may not have said about Megyn Kelly’s time of the month.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 1:56 pm
With Greenpeace USA engaged in yet another attempt to thwart Shell’s Arctic exploration efforts, it is time for a federal judge to hold it accountable for continued and brazen violations of the injunction she issued May 8 ordering the group to stay away from the company’s vessels.
On July 29, a group of 13 activists dangled themselves from a bridge in Portland, Ore., in a declared attempt to stop the 380-foot ice handling vessel Fennica from leaving port after repairs are complete on the hull damage suffered on an uncharted shoal while leaving Dutch Harbor July 3.
Speaking for the group was none other than Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard.
This follows Greenpeace USA leading a kayak blockade against the Polar Pioneer drilling platform as tugs were attempting to pull it out of Puget Sound on June 15 in which more than a dozen were arrested for violating Coast Guard safety zones around the vessels.
A couple days later off the coast of Vancouver Island, the Greenpeace USA vessel Esperanza intercepted the Polar Pioneer in transit, repeatedly dropping a banner supported by bouys in front of the rig and even tossing swimmers into its path.
The Esperanza, you may recall, also facilitated the scaling of the Polar Pioneer by six pirates including one from Greenpeace USA as it crossed the Pacific Ocean during April. They quit the rig April 11, just before the issuance of a temporary restraining order against Greenpeace USA that preceded the full injunction issued May 8.
Reckless, stupid and illegal only begin to describe Greenpeace USA’s actions. The only question now is how long Alaska U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason will continue to allow Greenpeace USA to thumb its collective nose at her injunctive order.
Shell isn’t sitting idly by in the face of Greenpeace USA’s lawlessness. The company has filed a request with Gleason seeking nearly $60,000 in attorneys’ fees from Greenpeace USA based on its expenses responding to not one, not two, not three, but five different motions filed in the Alaska U.S. District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to have the injunction stayed.
Shell is alleging that Greenpeace USA never had any intention of complying with Gleason’s injunction, and points to the fact that the stay motions were withdrawn at the early dawn hour of 5:46 a.m. Pacific time on June 15. That’s the precise time of day Greenpeace USA was leading the kayak blockade of the Polar Pioneer in Seattle.
Shell is also pointing to the testimony of Greenpeace Arctic Campaigner Mary Sweeters, who stated the following under direct examination from the group’s attorney during the injunction hearing:
Q: “Does Greenpeace USA at this time have any plans to physically block Shell from moving its vessels up to the Arctic?”
A: “To my knowledge, no.”
Q: “Does Greenpeace USA at this time have any plans to block Shell, physically, from doing anything with respect to its Arctic exploration campaign?”
A: “To my knowledge, no.”
The attempt at plausible deniability — “to my knowledge” — is cute, but the dishonesty of Greenpeace USA’s representations to the court is anything but.
It is obvious Greenpeace USA never intended to obey Gleason’s injunction, and once it was clear the group wasn’t going to get a stay it abandoned all pretence of compliance.
The group is also well aware of the risks of civil contempt it is taking. In Sweeters’ declaration to the court seeking relief from the one-kilometer safety zone Gleason ordered, she stated the fear of civil contempt charges should Shell allege it wasn’t keeping a proper distance from its vessels.
Greenpeace USA is protesting Shell’s request for attorneys’ fees, calling the motion a disguised attempt at a contempt order. In response, Shell wrote in a July 20 brief that it has every intention of filing a contempt motion.
The bridge danglers in Portland and the open role of Greenpeace USA in their action, combined with a long list of violations of the injunction preceding it, should be all Gleason needs to hold the group in contempt.
Posted Wednesday, July 01, 2015 - 3:02 pm
Oh, the vagaries of print journalism.
Our original cover story for this Oil & Gas Reporter was a profile of Corri Feige, the new director of the state Oil and Gas Division, and her effort to put the welcome mat out for new explorers coming to Alaska.
After Gov. Bill Walker’s announcement June 30 that he was vetoing $200 million in tax credits for explorers with no tax liability, that headline quickly became obsolete.
The subject of another article in this issue — an Australian-Houston venture to drill an exploration in a North Slope shale play — could also become moot based on Walker’s announcement to “start a discussion” about exploration credits by using his veto to delay payment of $200 million for which companies may be eligible.
The venture by 88 Energy had just secured $50 million from Bank of America on June 24 to finance the project, and our reporter Tim Bradner wrote the effort could be eligible for up to 85 percent of its costs covered through the state exploration credit program. It’s unknown at this point what the impact of Walker’s decision will be on that project, but it’s not likely to be positive.
Consider what Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck told the Senate Finance Committee Back on Jan. 28 after Walker first flagged the issue of the tax credits as “unsustainable” in a Jan. 8 opinion article.
“Investments in the future, when you don’t have much revenue, are painful. But they’re still investments in the future,” Hoffbeck said.
According to the Associated Press report on the hearing, “Hoffbeck said there is no systemic problem with the credits themselves. He said this is a cash-flow issue, driven by low prices.”
It wouldn’t be the first time that Walker and his staff haven’t been on the same page. Later in the session, members of his team who’d been briefed on the Alaska LNG Project told legislators they were pleased with what they’d learned.
That night, Walker dropped another op-ed expressing his goal to pursue a parallel, expanded state-owned gas pipeline project in case the Alaska LNG Project did not proceed.
Thankfully, the Legislature killed Walker’s pipe dream by reappropriating money from the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to prevent any funds from being spent on a competing project to AK LNG.
Once again, Walker has done what he seems to do best: throw uncertainty at the state’s most important industry in the name of populist pandering.
Although he claimed the opposite at his July 1 press conference, Walker had plenty of time and opportunity to weigh in on whether to shore up the budget deficit by capping or delaying credit payments to explorers — an idea Democrats were pushing nonstop — but he waited until now to do it.
It is true that everyone in the state will feel the squeeze of budget cuts, but it is also true that agencies have also had plenty of time and opportunity to prepare for how to absorb them.
What Walker’s action does is give pause to any company operating now or considering investing in the state because they’ll have no idea what the rules of the game will be or when the next time they will change without warning.
And some folks — like the governor — wonder why the major Slope producers are making fiscal certainty on oil and gas taxes the keystone of any decision to proceed with the Alaska LNG Project.
Posted Wednesday, July 01, 2015 - 3:00 pm
It’s time for Alaskans to take a hard look at the state’s prison system and who inhabits it.
Next fiscal year, the state of Alaska will spend $326 million on the Alaska Department of Corrections. According to figures from the department, there were 5,267 Alaskans in prison on July 1, 2014, the first day of the current fiscal year. The exact number of Alaskans in prison will fluctuate from day to day as prisoners are released and admitted, but do the math, and it works out to nearly $62,000 per inmate bed per year.
Though the Alaska Legislature has solved the state’s budget puzzle for the 2016 fiscal year, in less than seven months it will be back at work in the Capitol to address an even worse fiscal problem. As lawmakers face the issue, even the Department of Corrections will be cut.
Prison reform must be part of the state’s budget solution. Done correctly, it will save money and lead to better results for Alaskans unfortunate enough to end up in jail.
Last week, the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission met to hear a presentation from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The presentation mirrored one given to the Alaska Bar Association last month and included some alarming statistics.
Alaska’s prison population grew by 27 percent between 2005 and 2014, the third-fastest rate in the United States. Almost half the inmates currently in jail are behind bars for nonviolent offenses or because they violated parole. An alarming proportion — 28 percent at any given time — are awaiting trial. Think about it: Men and women are in jail for offenses they may not have committed. If found not guilty at trial, they will be released from jail with nothing more than a pat on the back for the days, weeks or months they’ve spent behind bars. Even as their lives are disrupted, the state is absorbing the cost.
Senate Bill 91, a bipartisan piece of legislation, would address this issue by offering more alternatives, including home arrest and electronic monitoring. It’s languishing until lawmakers return to the Capitol, and we hope the Legislature will keep it moving.
What about if a person is found guilty? Our initial reaction is harsh punishment. How many times have you heard (or said) “If you can do the crime, you can do the time?”
The problem then occurs when a person finishes their time. A majority of Alaska’s inmates, once released from jail, do something that sends them back to jail. It might be as simple as a probation violation or as dangerous as another crime.
The Criminal Justice Commission and the Pew Trusts have teamed up to put together a reform package tailored to the state’s problems, including recidivism, the process by which freed inmates commit new crimes and return to jail. We hope the Legislature and members of the public will be open to the idea that prison is not always the best solution.
To solve the problem of chronic inebriates in downtown Juneau, we’ve already turned to a housing-first approach as a new way to approach the issue. A similar approach may be needed for crime.
If Alaska’s prison population continues to rise, all Alaskans will be squeezed to pay the cost.
We simply can’t afford it.
Posted Wednesday, July 01, 2015 - 2:59 pm
During the third presidential debate in 2012, Mitt Romney attacked the Obama administration for advocating cuts to the military when some aspects of the U.S. armed forces are out of date or undermanned.
“Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917,” said Romney. “The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now at 285.”
Obama shot back something like this: “I think Gov. Romney maybe has not spent enough time looking at how our military works. We also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. There are these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. ... The question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships, it’s what are our capabilities.”
Who won the debate can be argued, but Obama won the election. In light of the news three years later, though, it appears Romney was correct, if not as glib as the president.
The U.S. may have enough big aircraft carriers and submarines (although that too may be debatable), but there obviously is a shortage of the amphibious vessels the Navy uses to deploy Marines to respond to global crises around the world, including incidents such as attacks on U.S. embassies.
USA Today reports that the Marine Corps, faced with a shortage of the type of assault ships they use to get troops, helicopters and other equipment to hot spots, is exploring a plan to use foreign ships.
The newspaper quotes Brig. Gen. Norman Cooling, deputy commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe Africa, as saying the measure is a stopgap way to deploy Marines aboard ships overseas until more American vessels are available. The Marines have been working with Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom and other close allies to determine the suitability of foreign ships for U.S. personnel, the report said. The units would be for limited operations and not major amphibious assaults.
The Navy has 30 amphibious ships but says it needs 38, and because of budget constraints it won’t reach that level until 2028.
That’s unacceptable. Depending on foreign ships to carry our troops doesn’t seem like a good option.
We agree with Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who says: “Allowing the continued atrophy of the Navy-Marine Corps team’s amphibious capacity is simply not an option given national security challenges facing the United States and its allies.”
Foreign policy and military preparedness should be a major issue in next year’s presidential election.
Let’s hope glib doesn’t carry the day over accuracy.
Posted Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - 12:37 pm
It took 140 days, but Alaska will have a budget for the year ahead. In a long-delayed compromise that provided the votes for a draw on the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve, the Legislature passed an operating budget totaling roughly $5.4 billion, a cut of $800 million from last year.
While there’s still a long way to go, the Legislature made progress in slimming the state’s budget this year, and it’s good that the majority and minority caucuses were able to compromise and avoid a government shutdown.
Passing a state budget seem a low bar to clear, but it’s the fundamental task assigned to the legislative branch, and the effects if the Legislature had not done so would have been far-reaching and disastrous for Alaskans.
The speed with which the budget compromise came together was surprising given the abject failure of earlier efforts. Gov. Bill Walker sent the Legislature to special session when several major items — including the operating budget — were left unfinished in April.
The House majority and minority caucuses spent weeks during the two special sessions that followed assembling a fragile compromise, only to have it rejected outright by Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, who stripped out many of the compromise items from the budget the Senate later passed.
A conference committee was assigned to iron out the differences between the House and Senate budgets, and it appears the bulk of movement on the budget after that committee formed took place behind the scenes.
With only 20 days before the state was due to lay off about 10,000 employees, a move that would have caused economic chaos, the sides reached agreement and passed a budget that looked largely like the compromise the House caucuses had come up with in the first place.
While there are various items throughout the budget with which one might find fault depending on individual priorities and political philosophy, there are two big positives in the Legislature’s passage of the budget.
The first is that the huge negative impact that would have resulted if no budget were in place by the start of the next fiscal year will be avoided. The second is that the method the Legislature chose to fund that budget — drawing on the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve rather than making an arcane shuffle involving the Alaska Permanent Fund earnings reserve — is by far the most sensible option that was available.
The scorched-earth approach of transferring nearly all of the money out of the permanent fund earnings reserve would have left the state with far less flexibility regarding future deficits and could have endangered residents’ annual dividends.
So the Legislature has done its primary job for the year, and while the $800 million in cuts made from last year’s state operating budget will fall heavily on the state and its residents, for the most part the body did what it could to spare residents from outsize impacts.
That task will be nowhere near as easy in future years as more avenues to reduce state spending are sought. The state still has a $3 billion budget gap, which can only be closed a small fraction by additional cuts without great harm to state services and the Alaskans who depend on them.
In recognition of this reality, it’s time to begin discussion of revenue options to make Alaska’s budget sustainable again. This won’t be an easy discussion — few people want to have more money withheld from their paycheck, face higher prices on groceries and household items or acknowledge that the permanent fund dividend may not last forever.
And care must be taken to ensure the revenue solutions enacted don’t disproportionately discourage residents and businesses from investing in Alaska and its future.
But it’s a discussion that must start now and must involve all Alaskans, so that when the Legislature returns to session next year, they won’t be starting from square one.
Posted Wednesday, June 17, 2015 - 10:42 am
Accompanied by a strange amount of back-patting and revisionist history, Gov. Bill Walker issued a press release June 10 announcing the restoration of Alaska-hire requirements for state-funded construction projects.
In an op-ed his office circulated June 11, Walker wrote that he was “proud” to restore the requirement that 90 percent of the jobs on state-funded infrastructure projects go to Alaska residents first.
Here’s the catch: the only reason Walker can restore the Alaska-hire requirement is because the state unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in April compared to the national average of 5.4 percent in the same month.
The Alaska-hire requirement was suspended statewide in August 2013 when the state unemployment rate was 6.5 percent and the national average was 7.3 percent; the determination is required every two years and at the time the state unemployment rate had been less than the national rate for four years.
That had never happened before in state history, and under state law the “zone of underemployment” that allows Alaska-hire requirements to kick in only applies when the unemployment rate is significantly greater than the national average.
At the time, 15 areas around the state with greater unemployment rates than the national average retained their Alaska-hire requirements. It was only the statewide designation that was suspended.
In his press release, Walker’s office described the Alaska-hire requirement as being “terminated” in 2013.
In his op-ed, Walker wrote, “Unfortunately, statewide Alaska hire requirements were eliminated in 2013. I’m proud to restore Alaska Hire, in the nonpartisan spirit of putting Alaskans first.”
“Terminated,” “eliminated” and “unfortunately” are odd ways to describe a decision that was mandated under a state law that all governors are sworn to follow.
Does Walker really think it was “unfortunate” in 2013 that Alaska’s unemployment rate was better than the national average?
Is he really “proud” that Alaska has reverted to its traditional status of having higher unemployment than the nation as a whole?
Walker blames “sharply declining” public sector employment and some layoffs in the oil and gas sector for Alaska’s unemployment rate diverging from the national average, but in reality the difference is only 0.2 percentage points from 6.5 percent in 2013 compared to 6.7 percent now.
The fact is Alaska typically has a greater rate than the national average because of widespread poverty in rural areas and the seasonal nature of commercial fishing, the state’s largest private employer.
Portraying the 2013 determination as anything other than upholding state law is a mischaracterization of the action by the Labor Department under former Gov. Sean Parnell.
Here is what the former Labor Commissioner Dianne Blumer wrote in her own op-ed at the time: “According to state law, the Employment Preference Determination is in effect through June 30, 2015. The department will make a determination again in two years based on new unemployment data. My hope is that Alaska’s economy will be even stronger and there will not be a need for any zones of underemployment.”
Leaving aside Blumer’s clear statement that nothing was being “terminated” or “eliminated,” Walker is treating the restoration of Alaska-hire requirements as some kind of an achievement.
That is quite a contrast from the expressed goal of the previous administration to keep the state unemployment rate less than the national average.
Walker also spent part of his op-ed talking about depressed oil prices and smaller capital budgets being a reality, but soon after wrote: “The Port MacKenzie rail extension, a $120 million project, probably will go to bid and be subject to Alaska Hire over the next year. So will the Seward Meridian Parkway extension, a $30 million project.”
For some perspective, only $7.7 million of the 2016 capital budget was unrestricted general funds of the type that could fund an Alaska-hire qualified project. The $150 million total for the two projects Walker mentioned is equal to the entire capital budget he proposed this year, which was stripped down to little more than generating federal matching funds.
It does not seem very realistic to portray $120 million to complete Port MacKenzie as being imminently funded given the state’s budget situation, but not much else from this announcement made sense, either.
Posted Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 10:11 am
The revised eavesdropping program that the U.S. Senate finally passed on June 2 and sent to the president doesn’t go as far as some civil-liberties advocates wanted, but it’s the first time that Congress has placed limits on the government’s ability to spy on Americans after 9/11.
That alone should bring a measure of satisfaction to Americans who fear that the national-security apparatus of the government in Washington has gone too far in the direction of snooping, at the expense of the legitimate privacy rights of U.S. citizens.
The USA Freedom Act, as it is now called, will end the National Security Agency’s wholesale phone-records collection program and replace it with a more-restrictive measure to keep the records in the hands of phone companies. Most of the programs of the old Patriot Act will remain intact in the new law, but significant, and welcome, changes have been enacted.
Now the government will need court orders to obtain data connected to specific numbers from the phone companies, which typically store them for 18 months. That represents a meaningful improvement in the law.
Moreover, the new law creates a panel of outside experts to advise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which up to now has largely gone along with whatever the Bush and Obama administrations have requested.
To their credit, members of the Senate also resisted a push by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to strike a provision that would declassify some significant opinions by the secret surveillance court. In the end, Sen. McConnell, who fought against all the improvements in the House-passed version of the bill that the Senate ultimately approved, was effectively rebuked by members of his own party, who refused to follow his lead on a variety of bad amendments.
Beyond the actual changes in the law, the best aspect of the months-long effort to revise the old Patriot Act is that the people’s representatives in Washington actually held a long-overdue public debate on the fundamental question of the struggle between privacy and national security.
The revelations of Edward Snowden showed that the government had stretched the provisions of the Patriot Act to a point that shocked many Americans, not to mention more than a few members of Congress, and it was all done in secret.
Repeated assertions by intelligence officials, and even President Obama — that it was all “for our own good” — did little to erase suspicions that the government was enhancing its powers of surveillance and intrusion without regard to the rights of citizens and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
There is a lesson here for future administrations, and for future generations.
The first is that if the government wants Americans to accept a controversial program, it must never fear to present its arguments in public, where they can be subjected to the rigor of debate and skeptical inspection. That’s basic democracy.
The other lesson is that citizens who are stampeded into accepting encroachments on their liberties wake up one day and find the government has gone too far. In the wake of 9/11, there was little public support for those who questioned whether the Patriot Act was an overreaction that did more harm than good, posing a threat to basic liberties. The public’s fears were understandable, but, with the advantage of hindsight, it now appears the skeptics were right.
Posted Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 10:47 am
Dysfunction has defined the 2015 Legislative session that will not die, and yet somehow a Wasilla senator — aided by his Republican colleagues from the Valley and Anchorage — managed to find a new low with his disgraceful attempt to gut the sexual abuse and assault education bill known as Erin’s Law.
On May 19, Senate Education Committee Chair Mike Dunleavy introduced a substitute to House Bill 44, which passed 34-6 on April 18 during the regular session, that reverses the law’s intent by removing the mandatory requirements for school districts to implement the K-12 curriculum designed to prevent sexual abuse and assault.
Further, Dunleavy’s substitute bill would prohibit school districts from contracting for services for education on issues such as sexually transmitted diseases from organizations like Planned Parenthood that also provide abortions.
Dunleavy didn’t pull this off alone, and committee members Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, and Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, should be ashamed of themselves, too, for helping to spike a bill that passed overwhelmingly in the House across party lines and that had passed the Senate unanimously in 2014.
Self-awareness is often lacking in those who seek to impose their personal values on others, but Dunleavy’s bill is so hypocritical that it deserves its own entry in the dictionary.
Dunleavy clothes himself with the mantle of a champion of local control for school districts to decide whether to even offer the Erin’s Law curriculum and then in the following paragraphs restricts who school districts may work with to develop that and other related curriculum.
By simultaneously requiring a local option while also restricting those options, it makes one wonder whether Dunleavy has the necessary equipment to experience cognitive dissonance.
That isn’t to say Dunleavy isn’t a smart guy. Just look at his Senate bio and he will tell you so himself. He just happens to be driving the Valley Values bus and it has a huge blind spot.
He’s also reportedly considering a challenge to Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2016 Republican primary, and there’s no better way to polish his bona fides with the Joe Miller wing of the party than to turn a noncontroversial, bipartisan bill into a battlefield in the culture wars.
Allowing a parental opt-out for their children is a reasonable measure agreed to by the bill’s advocates, but the fact such language wasn’t in the Senate version that passed last year is damning evidence that Dunleavy’s act is nothing more than a political clown show.
In a state with the ignoble distinction of having the highest rates of sexual abuse and assault in the nation, allowing school districts to opt out of Erin’s Law is like giving them the choice whether to offer math and science.
There are clear differences both practical and philosophical between Republicans and Democrats and the governor on the budget and Medicaid expansion. Where there has been very little separation, either in the House this year or the Senate in the last, is the support for Erin’s Law.
The session isn’t over yet, so the race for biggest disgrace isn’t over, but suborning the will of overwhelming majorities to the fringe elements being courted by Dunleavy is easily the current clubhouse leader.
Posted Wednesday, May 06, 2015 - 10:11 am
Having solved virtually every issue in their home jurisdictions, the Seattle City Council and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee are looking north to Alaska.
They’ve written formal letters asking U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to revoke federal oil and gas leases with Royal Dutch Shell in the Arctic outer continental shelf (Seattle City Council), and to avoid issuing any further leases in that area off Alaska (Gov. Inslee). The leases are undesirable because they will, in the Washingtonians’ view, contribute to global climate change.
Washington’s governor, the Seattle City Council and Seattle Mayor Edward Murray also oppose a lease signed by Royal Dutch Shell and Foss Maritime for moorage space in the Seattle area for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet — a lease that’s now the subject of a lawsuit filed by (surprise!) environmental groups.
The above information is cited in the Alaska Legislature’s rightful response to Washington state’s latest meddling in Alaska’s economic affairs.
In mid-April, the Legislature approved Senate Joint Resolution 18, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek rebuke to the politicians of the nanny, er, Evergreen, state.
“This resolution sends a strong message to Washington state that Alaska will not tolerate its unsolicited interference in the multi-faceted and nationally strategic economic development plan for the Arctic,” Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage said in announcing the passage of SJR18.
At its outset, SJR18 notes that Alaska pursued statehood to cease being an economic colony of Washington state or anyone else.
Not that Washington state doesn’t continue to benefit mightily from Alaska — the Last Frontier accounts for about 113,000 jobs and approximately $5 billion in annual sales for Washington, according to the resolution.
The fun part of SJR18 points out that Washington state has a great opportunity to reduce carbon dioxide emissions right there at home.
Closing the Boeing production facilities in Washington state would result in 650 fewer aircraft each year, aircraft that “otherwise would discharge more than 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide during the lifetimes of those aircraft and would provide a significant reduction in the release of pollutants into the atmosphere.”
Of course, now that Alaska’s Legislature has drawn attention to the Boeing situation, one can be certain that Inslee, Murray and the Seattle City Council are busy writing letters demanding closure of those production facilities.
SJR18 also makes it clear that if Seattle doesn’t want to host Shell’s fleet, Alaska will do so, gladly.
“The Alaska State Legislature invites Royal Dutch Shell to use a port in this state as the homeport of its Arctic drilling fleet if the lease with the Port of Seattle is terminated,” states SJR18.
To that we say, ‘Here, here!”
Really. Here — as in Ketchikan. We’ve got a fabulous deep-water port and a maritime infrastructure that just keeps getting better. C’mon on up!
The Alaska Legislature was correct to remark on Washington’s meddling. SJR18 makes the right points, and stresses that Alaska has the capability to handle the job-creating situations that Washington apparently doesn’t want.
After so many years of Washington state treating Alaska as its junior, it’s not surprising that Washington politicians continue to feel they should weigh in against Alaska’s interests on issues.
We, as the Alaska Legislature has done, suggest that the Washingtonians step back, and focus on their own state.
Posted Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - 10:08 am
There is an internet meme dedicated to major fails captioned by a simple declaration: “You had one job.”
A more fitting summation of this legislative session is difficult to think of as dysfunction has devolved into farce. The House and Senate adjourned April 27 after passing a papered-over budget that doesn’t fully fund the next fiscal year only to be immediately called back into a special session by Gov. Bill Walker the following day.
The Legislature’s leadership, as it has for most of the session, ignored Walker and promptly gaveled out into recess as it sought a two-week break and to move the special session to Anchorage. Major remodeling at the capitol is scheduled to start in May.
With Alaska in the most precarious budget times since the 1980s oil price crash devastated the state economy, the utter failure of leadership by the governor and the Legislature in response to the current crisis is pathetic.
Walker’s performance has been a case study in ineptness and naïveté since taking office Dec. 1 after an election in which nearly 52 percent of voters cast ballots for somebody other than him.
A result that did not carry a majority of the votes in his favor should not have been interpreted as a mandate, but that is just how Walker has approached his job by trying to govern through proclamations, press conferences, publicity stunts and newspaper op-eds.
Rather than hit the ground running Dec. 1, Walker was late submitting budget documents and still hasn’t gotten up to speed on the Alaska LNG Project while going off on his own tangent for a state-led gasline that has no shot at earning support in the Legislature. He refused for two months to introduce a bill to expand Medicaid and in general was completely disengaged from the day-to-day work of passing his legislative priorities.
Walker seems to believe that declaring Medicaid expansion a “must-have” will somehow magically make it happen without doing the nitty-gritty of negotiating with legislators who are skeptical about costs and want real reforms of the unsustainable program implemented in concert with expanding the eligibility rolls.
The legislative leadership, particularly in the House, could have gotten around Walker’s bumbling if it had been able to work out compromises with its Democrat counterparts in the minority. But it, too, failed to do so.
There is a reason a super-majority of votes are needed to draw on the Constitutional Budget Reserve. For one thing, it is a serious action that should not be undertaken lightly, and secondly to prevent the majority from steamrolling the minority.
Minority rights are a keystone of the legislative process at both the state and federal level, and the Democrats in the House were well within their power and their duty to the people who elected them to exercise that leverage.
But much like Walker refused to recognize the reality that he would have to work with the leadership in both houses, the House Majority similarly failed to broker a deal with Democrats whose votes it needed to pass a fully-funded budget for the next fiscal year.
A special session focused solely on Medicaid expansion and reform always appeared likely, but the makeshift budget funded by raiding other state accounts to get around Democrats’ demands could have been avoided by reaching an accord on education funding and passing “Erin’s Law,” neither of which should have been impassable obstacles to cutting a deal.
The governor and the Legislature had one job this session above all others: deal with the budget crisis. By not even passing a fully-funded budget, nobody in Juneau earns even a passing grade.
It is “Fs” all around.
Posted Wednesday, April 08, 2015 - 9:32 am
As this column goes to press, it has been 129 days since Gov. Bill Walker was sworn in to office.
It has been 92 days since Walker fired three members of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board of directors and ordered two newly-appointed state commissioners not to sign confidentiality agreements related to the Alaska LNG Project.
It has been 49 days since Walker announced in a newspaper column that he intended to explore an upsized Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline capable of moving as much as 2.6 billion cubic feet per day as a backup plan to AK LNG.
Unable or unwilling to explain exactly what he was doing to the Legislature’s leadership, it has been 37 days since Walker flipped his lid at a press conference vowing to veto legislation intended to keep AK LNG on track as the state’s top priority.
Now, with the Legislature having passed that bill and very near to holding the votes to override Walker’s veto, the governor announced he’s forming a team to review the AK LNG Project for 45 days starting whenever he gets around to naming them.
When Walker fired the three AGDC board members, he dismissed the need for confidentiality and for industry expertise yet the team he’s assembling to n review the AK LNG Project will have to sign confidentiality agreements and according to Walker’s spokesperson will be selected based on experience with large projects.
The governor has every right to shape the AGDC board as he sees fit — within the confines of the legal qualifications for his nominees — and he absolutely must be in the loop on the status of negotiations, project details and fiscal terms.
For someone who’s made a natural gas pipeline his life’s work, it is puzzling that he didn’t start getting up to speed on AK LNG on his first day in office. Instead, he’s spent more than four months dithering, sowing confusion and in general mucking up the process.
All this as the clock ticks away and the schedule tightens for finalizing terms that must be ratified by the Legislature and moves toward a 2016 decision for the partners on whether to make a $2-billion call to proceed to full front-end engineering and design.
A few rookie missteps are understandable for a new governor, but wasting precious time is not.
Posted Wednesday, April 01, 2015 - 11:38 am
Because the facts of this matter are so astounding, let’s make sure we have this straight.
President Barack Obama is attempting to deny Congress a voice on a possible deal being negotiated with Iran that has huge national security implications.
At the same time, the media is reporting Obama may submit such a deal to the United Nations Security Council for approval. The implications of this are simply staggering.
With “friends” like Russia and China on the Security Council, could the U.S. expect meaningful help down the road if Iran chose, for example, to deny inspectors access to their nuclear sites?
A bipartisan bill is pending in Congress, with 65 supporters, that would allow Congress to approve any pending deal. The administration has threatened to veto it if passed.
Quite clearly, this is part of a continuing pattern by this White House to try to govern by executive decree.
During the Cold War, presidents of both parties submitted nuclear arms control agreements to Congress for approval.
Admittedly there have been other accords the administration correctly points out where this didn’t happen.
One that comes to mind was a nuclear accord with North Korea over 15 years ago. We all know how well that turned out.
One point reportedly being negotiated with Iran is the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on that country. The fact Congress enacted the legislation imposing sanctions only strengthens the argument that they should have a voice in any agreement that lifts those sanctions.
Given Obama’s effort to bypass Congress, it should not surprise anyone that 47 Senate Republicans took the unprecedented step of sending a letter to Iran’s supreme leader pointing out the unstable foundation of any accord not reviewed by Congress.
Obama was quick to denounce their action, but the aforementioned bill now pending clearly demonstrates that unease over this deal and the administration’s track record in foreign affairs extends across party lines.
Given some of Obama’s debacles in foreign affairs, this is hardly surprising. We submit his dismissal of ISIS as junior varsity and the admission there was no strategy for combating ISIS.
In his January State of the Union, the president cited Yemen as one of our success stories.
Another case in point is Syria. Obama drew red lines warning the U.S. would take action if the Assad regime used chemical weapons.
After Syria repeatedly ignored these red lines, our commander in chief passed the ball off to Congress to decide whether to respond.
It’s rich that Obama passed this hot potato to Congress to deal with and can now argue with a straight face that the people’s representatives have no role to play in a nuclear agreement with a radical regime that not only hates us, but is a threat to our safety and to the safety of our allies in the Middle East.
Posted Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - 9:31 am
The Republican Congress is starting to debate its budget outline for fiscal 2016, and it’s not too soon to call it a test of whether this gang can shoot straight. The budget sets a broad policy direction that ought to unify Republicans, if they can overcome their parochial passions.
On March 17, new House Budget Chairman Tom Price rolled out his fiscal blueprint for the coming year, and in the tradition of previous chairman Paul Ryan (now heading Ways and Means) the document continues to develop the most important reform plan in a generation.
Price would cut spending by $5.5 trillion relative to the status quo over the next decade, reducing federal spending to 18.2 percent of the economy by 2024. The share today is 20.3 percent and is headed toward 22.3 percent in a decade on present trend.
The main obstacles to getting 218 votes are tea party free agents who want government to shrink faster, and defense hawks and some appropriators who want to break the spending caps that are enforced by the sequester passed in 2011. Both groups should understand that without the budget passing they have no chance of getting anything close to what they want.
The irony of tea party opposition is that the outline includes far-reaching reform that would balance the federal budget within eight years. Price’s budget would slow the annual growth of federal spending to a manageable 3.3 percent on average from the current 5.1 percent. That’s no small achievement given the accumulating obligations for ObamaCare and baby boom retirees.
Price does this with targeted policy changes to the real drivers of the federal debt — the open-ended entitlement state. Price retains Ryan’s “premium support” reform, which would gradually modernize Medicare by introducing more competition among insurers and more individual choice of health plans.
The budget also calls for repealing ObamaCare, and it makes a valuable contribution on Medicaid, which as a share of GDP has increased 240 percent since 1980 and is due to rise another 75 percent over the next 10 years. Republicans have long supported changes that would devolve the program to states with federal block grants, but this budget emphasizes deregulating Medicaid to give Governors more flexibility to innovate.
The document ranges across the federal government (consolidating the 92 antipoverty programs, for example), and the Congressional Budget Office estimates the plan would increase real GDP per capita by 1.5 percent in 2025. The best method to reduce the deficit is faster economic growth.
Normally this would be a layup despite back-bench grousing, but dissent is also coming from members of the GOP’s national-security wing. Their alarm is sincere, and the sequester’s indiscriminate, ever-tighter reductions have harmed national defense. But the damage to date is also overstated: Congress uses an annual “overseas contingency operations fund” to circumvent the caps and give the military more resources to prosecute the likes of Islamic State.
Price’s plan adheres to the defense cap of $523 billion, but he adds another $90 billion in the contingency fund to bring overall defense spending for 2016 to $613 billion, higher than President Obama’s budget request. Over 10 years the House plan would exceed Obama’s budget by $151 billion and the current fiscal path by $387 billion.
We agree that defense spending should increase to meet the world’s growing disorder, but Obama will also insist on at least $1 in additional domestic discretionary spending (education, roads and the like) for every $1 of defense above the caps. Lifting the caps (and most of the rest in the budget) requires separate legislation that must be negotiated with the White House, and the caps are the best leverage Republicans have to extract reform concessions.
It makes no sense to unilaterally abandon the GOP’s single largest fiscal achievement since 2010 before negotiations. Especially since Obama isn’t going to use the military for much in his last two years no matter how much Congress spends. Better to pass the budget, giving instructions to the spending committees, and use those bills and others to give the Pentagon more flexibility to allocate priorities under the cap. Then see what Obama might trade for more spending.
As important, failing to pass a budget would also deprive Republicans of the procedural tool known as reconciliation. This allows the GOP to pass a final budget with a simple majority in the House and Senate, and thus it will be crucial to putting larger reforms of ObamaCare or taxes on Obama’s desk. A vote against the budget is in that sense a vote for the ObamaCare status quo.
The House and Senate will have to reconcile their separate outlines into a single bill that does not require Obama’s signature. The budget is thus a chance to offer the public a serious reform agenda that is an alternative to the high-tax, slow-growth entitlement state of Obama and Hillary Clinton. It is also a particular test of whether Republicans can operate as a functioning majority.
Posted Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 9:54 am
Nice little oil project you’ve got there, Conoco. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it.
The $8 million exacted from ConocoPhillips in order to receive its permit to construct the Greater Moose’s Tooth-1 project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is a rather elegant combination of old school protection rackets and third world government kickbacks.
In the Record of Decision issued Feb. 13 authorizing the GMT-1 project, the compensatory mitigation section states that the permittee “must contribute” $1 million to the Bureau of Land Management within 60 days to develop a Regional Mitigation Strategy for the northeastern NPR-A. After that, C-P must pay $3.5 million after laying the first gravel and another $3.5 million after completion of the road, pad and pipeline.
Even if ConocoPhillips decides not to move forward with GMT-1, it still has to fork over $1 million to BLM by April 13 in exchange for its preferred road route being selected.
George Orwell would have appreciated the doublespeak of calling a mandatory payment a “contribution,” but perhaps not as much as Mario Puzo would appreciate ConocoPhillips being forced into a decision to either “contribute” the $8 million to BLM or see its permit application rejected and tens of millions if not more in engineering work go down the memory hole.
Talk about an offer you can’t refuse.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell doesn’t see what the big deal is. After all, ConocoPhillips is a major oil producer and has plenty of money lying around to grease government palms. It’s a striking revelation of an authoritarian mentality that believes the private assets of a company engaged in lawful activities are subject to the appropriating whims of the federal government that controls the permits.
To be clear, this $8 million “contribution” goes above and beyond what ConocoPhillips is already obligated to spend for mitigation measures directly related to its activities and in fact goes further into potentially being used to clean up the federal government’s mess of legacy wells in the NPR-A.
The ROD acknowledges this fact, stating that the mitigation measures may include “cleanup of previously disturbed sites that pre-date the production phase of NPR-A” such as “legacy well reserve pits.” Put another way, Jewell would make ConocoPhillips pay for damage it hasn’t done in order to clean up damage the federal government already has.
The ultimate irony of this petty graft is that ConocoPhillips has paid billions upon billions in royalties and taxes over the years that have benefited Alaska Natives far more than anything Sally Jewell can come up with, and it willingly gives millions more in actual contributions to successes such as the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.
If we hadn’t already lived through six years of an administration whose hypocrisy is only outdone by its disregard for the rule of law, this “pay-to-play” scheme could be considered a new low.
Unfortunately, it’s only the new normal.
Posted Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 9:52 am
Liberals make it seem as if federal student loans don’t cost taxpayers a penny. Some, notably Elizabeth Warren, are aghast that the government is profiting handsomely from lending to students. No need to worry, Senator.
Buried in the White House budget is a $21.8 billion writedown on the government’s student loan portfolio that no one seems to want to mention — perhaps because taxpayers can expect more red ink to come.
The budget news that dare not speak its name is that more borrowers with larger student debts are enrolling in President Obama ‘s Pay As You Earn loan forgiveness plan, which caps graduates’ payments at 10% of their adjusted gross income minus 150 percent of the poverty line. After 20 years, borrowers can shed their remaining debt. Those who go to work in “public service” can be debt-free after 10 years.
The Administration’s definition of public service is, well, broad. The liberal advocacy groups 350.org and Center for American Progress, which has been lobbying hard for more student loan forgiveness, would qualify since they’re 501(c)(3) nonprofits under the tax code. Can journalists qualify, too?
Under a 2010 law, only new borrowers as of 2014 qualified for these generous loan forgiveness programs; Congress wanted to keep a short-term lid on the costs. Then in 2012 President Obama extended the loan giveaway retroactively to 2007, which happened to cover more of the young voters he needed to win re-election. Then last year he eliminated the statute of limitation in toto to qualify an additional five million borrowers.
Meantime, the Education Department and student-loan servicers have been aggressively steering more borrowers into these plans with the goal of keeping down politically embarrassing default rates. High-priced law and graduate schools have also been advertising the benefits. Georgetown Law holds seminars instructing students on how to stick taxpayers with the maximum writeoff.
According to the New America Foundation, 24 percent of Federal Direct Loan Program balances that have come due are enrolled in loan forgiveness plans, up from 14 percent about a year ago. Hence the White House’s new $21.8 billion writedown, which isn’t included in the White House budget summary tables that project how its proposals would affect deficits. That’s because the writedown is now built into the budget baseline.
Instead and incredibly, the White House projects $14.6 billion in savings over a decade from its de minimis “reforms” to Pay As You Earn, such as extending the repayment term on balances greater than $57,500 to 25 years from 20. The putative savings are so large only because the original, undisclosed costs of extending eligibility were so big.
In a giant fiscal shell game, President Obama wants to pump these fictitious savings into expanding other higher-ed subsidies such as Pell grants. Then in next year’s budget, he can propose more “reforms” to pocket more “savings” that he can use to increase spending again. The proper name for this budget charade is Kick It Forward.
Posted Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 11:00 am
As if to prove that there truly is no limit to their brutality, the terrorists of the Islamic State have reached a new low by burning alive the Jordanian pilot captured last December when his plane crashed over Syria.
The 20-minute video, which according to those with the stomach to view it, has the production values of a slick Hollywood short subject, shows 26-year-old Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh with his face clearly beaten and swollen, then in a cage, his orange jumpsuit doused with a liquid. Then there is slow-motion horror of the flame being lit, the sight and the sounds of death.
A spokesman for the Jordanian military confirmed the death and said, “While the military forces mourn the martyr, they emphasize his blood will not be shed in vain. Our punishment and revenge will be as huge as the loss of the Jordanians.”
We can only hope they mean it, because the effort by the Jordanian government to negotiate with the terrorists over the possible trade of an al-Qaida prisoner responsible for the deaths of 60 people for a 2005 bombing of a hotel didn’t work out so well.
Meanwhile, President Obama maintained his No-Drama Obama stance referring to ISIS as “this organization” as if it were the local Kiwanis club, adding, “Whatever ideology they are operating under is bankrupt.”
Whatever ideology? Really!
Gosh, wouldn’t want to accuse Islamist radicals of being Islamist radicals or anything.
What we do know is that more American citizens remain among their hostages and that “this organization” continues to spread its “bankrupt ideology” like the cancer that it is. Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues in its own policy-free zone of doing just enough to avoid international condemnation and too little to make an impact.
Posted Wednesday, February 04, 2015 - 10:36 am
While the state’s planned purchase of Fairbanks Natural Gas parent company Pentex may play a large part in the solution for natural gas delivery to Fairbanks, for the moment it mostly raises questions. The purchase would reduce the number of items local and state officials have to put into place, potentially including a gas liquefaction facility. But it also creates other wrinkles that must be dealt with before the end goal of affordable energy is achieved.
The announcement by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority on Jan. 28 that the state is planning to buy Pentex for $52.5 million was a surprise, but could significantly benefit the Interior Energy Project and its goals. The direction and timeline of the project were uncertain after the pullout of North Slope gas liquefaction plant contractor MWH in late December. With the pending acquisition, Gov. Walker has indicated a clear direction in which progress can continue. Moreover, the deal could be a significant boon if it includes the services of Pentex subsidiary Titan’s Port Mackenzie liquefaction plant, and if supply can be lined up from Cook Inlet producers. Even before its cost estimate crept upward, MWH’s plant on the North Slope was projected to cost $185 million — to have liquefaction capability at less than a third the up-front price would be a tremendous step forward for the Interior’s energy goals.
But those, at least for now, are ifs, and big ones. In late 2014, Pentex announced it was planning to sell the Port Mackenzie facility to Hilcorp subsidiary Harvest Alaska LLC. Whether that sale will still go forward is an open question, and one that could have serious ramifications with regard to the ability to deliver natural gas to the Interior at the target price of $15 per thousand cubic feet (the equivalent of heating fuel at roughly $2 per gallon). If the sale goes through, the state must hammer out terms with Harvest Alaska that would ensure the price goal can be met.
Also a source of consternation in some quarters is the apparent entry of the state as a gas supplier, creating a potentially odd relationship with regard to regulation — for instance, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, a state body, may end up ruling on whether the sale of the liquefaction plant to Harvest Alaska goes through. Additionally, the state may end up negotiating gas supply terms with the same Cook Inlet producers whose license applications it is in a position to grant. Care must be taken to not let the government’s interests create an unfair operating environment.
Given Gov. Bill Walker’s aggressive timetable for Interior energy relief, these questions likely will be addressed soon, which will do much to clarify exactly how good of a deal the Pentex acquisition would be for the state and Interior residents. For now, the best sign that the deal may contribute significantly to gas delivery goals is the reaction of Interior legislators and the Interior Gas Utility. The bulk of their response has so far been positive.
Despite the additional issues raised by the state’s planned acquisition of Pentex, it’s good news that the Interior Energy Project isn’t languishing after MWH’s departure. It’s also good to see the state take an active role in helping pieces for the project come together. In the next few weeks and months, we hope to see those pieces assembled into a concrete plan for gas delivery to Fairbanks.
Posted Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 5:52 am
Alaska had a record number of earthquakes in 2014, but this year could set a new one if Gov. Bill Walker keeps it up.
After openly picking a fight with the Legislature and the supporters of the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project by dismissing three Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board members, Walker has stepped on another fault line: Cook Inlet fisheries.
While Alaskans are generally united on fisheries issues such as trawl bycatch or the Pebble mine, nothing sets state residents against each other with greater bitterness than the perennial fights among sport and commercial salmon users in Cook Inlet.
Whether it is Kenai guides against East Side setnetters or Mat-Su Valley anglers and legislators against drift boats or “Joe Fisherman” against both sport guides and commercial users, the term “fish wars” coined to describe Cook Inlet management fights is not much of an overstatement.
The long history of Cook Inlet controversies led to Walker’s latest dramatic move after the Board of Fisheries chaired by Karl Johnstone unanimously refused to deem United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw qualified to interview for the job of Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner.
While there can be no doubt that Maw has not only advocated for his membership but also sharply criticized board actions, there can also be no doubt that he was qualified to be interviewed for the job.
The Board of Fisheries made a mockery of a public process and the law when it refused, without comment, to interview him and put on the record what are the well-known concerns about placing an advocate such as Maw — or any advocate for that matter — into the commissioner post.
Not only did Walker quickly inform Johnstone that he wouldn’t be nominated for a third term on the board, but when Johnstone resigned Walker tapped Maw to replace him.
The move is stunning, and not just for the Hollywood plot twist.
Maw is a far stronger commercial fishing advocate than any of the other members of the board who come from the industry, and replacing Johnstone with Maw reverses the balance of power on the seven-member board.
The sport fish majority led by Johnstone instituted radical changes to Cook Inlet fisheries at its 2011 and 2014 meetings. After the 2011 meeting, Johnstone said that the allocative decisions made in some cases were worth “millions of dollars.”
UCIDA has twice filed lawsuits in federal court challenging Alaska management of Cook Inlet salmon, the most recent in 2013 after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council formally ceded that control to the state in 2012.
Relations are also strained between UCIDA and the Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission because the Northern District sport users successfully pushed for new restrictions on drifters at the 2014 board meeting.
Since then, the group has used state grant money to hire a consultant that commercial fishermen allege is biased against them. That sparked the most recent volley between the two user groups as UCIDA refused to attend a January workshop of the Mat-Su Commission.
Walker doesn’t have to look far into the recent past to see how nasty the Cook Inlet fish wars can be over board nominations and he should expect one over Maw given the makeup of the board and that his term will include the next Upper Cook Inlet meeting in 2017.
The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, mounted a vicious lobbying campaign in 2013 against former member Vince Webster, a setnetter from Bristol Bay, and succeeded in defeating his nomination by a 30-29 vote — the only one of then-Gov. Sean Parnell’s 88 nominations who was not confirmed.
That was when Webster wasn’t even a member of the majority, having lost the chairmanship to Johnstone in 2011.
Think of what KRSA will do at the prospect of Maw shepherding the votes on the Board of Fisheries.
The board needed a shakeup to be sure, but Walker should also be prepared for the aftershocks that are coming.
Posted Thursday, January 15, 2015 - 5:28 am
The state may technically own 25 percent of the Alaska LNG Project, but Gov. Bill Walker now owns all of it.
With his decision to fire three Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board members and his instruction to new cabinet members on the board to not sign confidentiality agreements regarding the Alaska LNG Project, Walker has injected an unnecessary level of uncertainty into the most critical endeavor impacting the state’s future.
The state no doubt has a spending problem, but with oil prices in the tank and not projected to recover anytime soon, it also clearly has a revenue problem.
State savings are sufficient to weather the price storm for now, but the Alaska LNG Project is the only thing on the horizon that can both generate billions in new revenue annually and benefit Alaskans with a low-cost source of energy.
During his campaign, one of Walker’s pledges was to continue the path set forward in Senate Bill 138, which passed by a wide, bipartisan margin in 2014 and has advanced the goal of North Slope gas commercialization further than any previous effort with hundreds of millions in spending already by the major producers.
Walker has the right to shape the AGDC board membership as he sees fit, but the order to not sign confidentiality agreements in the absence of revealing an alternative method of protecting proprietary information for both the state and the private companies is troubling.
Taken in isolation, Walker’s action regarding the AGDC board is disturbing enough, but industry has good reason to once again question the stability of the state investment climate in combination with other recent moves by the new governor.
There was his op-ed in the Alaska Dispatch News in which he ginned up lingering resentment over the oil tax reform passed in 2013 and upheld by the state’s voters last Aug. 19. Walker wrote that the state would pay out more in tax credits than it will take in through the production tax during the current fiscal year.
However, that is a function of collapsing prices, not a deficiency in the tax code. Walker did not write that under the current system that he also pledged to abide by during the campaign, the state is taking in more revenue at current prices and paying out less in credits than it would have under ACES. Production is also better than forecast two years ago thanks to the new investments spurred by oil tax reform.
Painting such an incomplete picture of the state revenue situation — Alaska will take in about $2 billion from other revenue sources tied to oil — needlessly generates populist anger against the oil producers and the previous administration.
After calling the credit system “irresponsible” and “unsustainable” in his op-ed, his response to a question from APRN reporter Alexandra Gutierrez about whether he planned to introduce any changes to the state tax system was classic Walker: “Nothing maybe.”
That is hardly reassuring.
Walker’s only press conference so far has been to announce a memorandum of understanding with Japanese consortium REI, which is seeking natural gas supplies to replace nuclear power.
REI’s interest in buying Alaska’s gas is welcome, but as a potential customer it is seeking the lowest price possible while the state’s responsibility — along with the producers’ to their shareholders — is to get the best possible price.
Then there is the abrupt firing of Transportation Commissioner Pat Kemp after he submitted reports on the Juneau Access road and the Knik Arm Crossing that included the merits of the projects and the potential federal repayment penalties if the projects were canceled for what could be deemed “political” reasons.
Kemp was unceremoniously dumped days later after putting off his retirement at Walker’s request to serve the state during the transition from Sean Parnell.
Walker’s spokesperson Grace Jang told reporters that Walker wanted commissioners who “align” with his priorities and that Kemp knew the projects were being targeted for cancelation.
If Walker wanted a report to explain why the Juneau road and Knik bridge should be killed, he should have asked for that. What it appears is that Kemp was fired for not telling Walker what he wanted to hear. It is especially ironic given Walker’s claimed dedication to transparency that Kemp was fired after presenting the merits of the projects and the costs of terminating them to the public.
Again, it may serve a populist purpose to chop $8 million from the Ambler road permitting process or $20 million for Susitna dam studies from Parnell’s budget, but those cuts achieve nothing in fixing the state budget problem that is being driven by formulaic increases in the operating budget tied to Medicaid, education, personnel costs and pensions.
Those are the fiscal realities Walker should be presenting to the public rather than implying that our deficit is the result of oil tax credits.
For someone who touted 30 years of attempting to commercialize North Slope gas during his campaign, we wonder why he hasn’t outlined his plan to finish the job and allay concerns among the state’s private partners and the Legislature.
It is hoped that Walker is not rearranging the Alaska LNG Project parameters simply because he doesn’t want to follow the path left to him by Parnell, who would naturally share credit if the gasline eventually gets built.
That would hardly live up to his campaign motto to put “Alaska First.”