Editorials

AJOC EDITORIAL: Supporting Hagel a mistake, backing Jewell even worse

From the party that brought you former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who famously said we had to pass the Affordable Care Act “to find out what’s in it,” we now have been given Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel. Hagel, a Republican by name who is popular with the media and the Democrats (but I repeat myself) for often taking positions against his party, performed to dismal reviews during his Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Jan. 31. After several questions about various military systems, procurement, etc., Hagel said the following: “I’ve said I don’t know enough about it. I don’t. There’s a lot of things I don’t know about. If confirmed, I intend to know a lot more than I do. I will have to.” In other words, You have to confirm me to find out if I can do the job. What we’re finding out now is that the Affordable Care Act does nothing to actually make care affordable and is, in fact, doing quite the opposite. Recent reports peg a family of four policy at $20,000 per year under the new law, IRS regulations will make subsidies unavailable for millions of children, and a disproportionate burden will be carried by the young who are footing the bill while standing to receive nothing from programs on track to be bankrupt by the time they can benefit from them. This follows on story after story of employers around the country cutting back hours for employees and not hiring new employees to avoid the costs and mandates associated with Obamacare. After all we’ve learned about what’s in the Affordable Care Act, just think of the excitement we can look forward to watching Hagel learn on the job as Defense Secretary. It’s a good thing Hagel won’t have to deal with multiple conflagrations burning throughout the Middle East and North Africa, an aggressive Russia reverting to Cold War posture, and a confident China emboldened by a deeply indebted United States  and whose client states Iran and North Korea continue to pursue and expand their nuclear ambitions. Based on Hagel’s past statements, he can just blame the Jews, cut our nuclear arsenal and call it good. And he’ll get 100 percent support from Democrats, including our own Sen. Mark Begich. President Barack Obama, when he talks the talk about providing job training to the unemployed, is certainly walking the walk when it comes to even Cabinet-level appointments. Speaking of unqualified Cabinet appointments, Obama also recently tapped REI Inc. CEO Sally Jewell for Secretary of the Interior. Short of nominating Daryl Hannah, who has been repeatedly arrested for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s hard to imagine a choice that would make the BANANA crowd happier. (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) Oh sure, Jewell has a history as a petroleum engineer for Mobil — about 30 years ago. Since then, she’s been a leader of and advocate for the outdoor recreation industry, a fine career and a worthy cause, there is no doubt about that. Alaskans love nothing more than the beautiful outdoors that are a unique American blessing. But knowledge of outdoor recreation is hardly a top qualification for someone to administer a vast department that is also responsible for resource development on federal lands. In press releases praising her nomination, organizations such as American Rivers and Trout Unlimited noted her background in outdoor recreation, a “$289 billion industry that supports 6.5 million jobs.” It is a little ironic that such organizations get real big on dollar figures and jobs when their industry is involved. In that vein, consider that according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the oil and gas industry accounted for 9.6 million jobs and $1.1 trillion in economic activity in 2011. That’s 7.5 percent of GDP, and accounts for 20 percent of all jobs created between 2003-2011. It is easy to forsee the backlash Jewell and her company REI would face the first time she goes against her constituency/customers. After all, the boycott is the preferred tool of such groups and REI is a big, fat target. This is the person who would ultimately have to sign off on Shell OCS permits? Sure, Jewell has given a few hundred bucks in 2008 and 2009 to Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski. But her largest individual donations have gone to Obama and her home state Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. Murray and Cantwell are reliable votes against opening up ANWR, and have cast those votes several times in the last decade. Most of Jewell’s donations have gone to the Outdoor Industry Association, of which she was a founding donor to their OIA political action committee in 2010. Among the OIA’s top legislative priorities, according to its website, is fighting against any rollback of the 2001 “roadless rule” through legislation of the kind introduced by Begich, Murkowski and Rep. Don Young back in 2011 to help rebuild the Southeast timber industry. We understand Murkowski, as one of the most collegial members of the Senate, will generally defer to Obama on nominations. We also understand Begich needs to stay in his party’s good graces even as he prepares for his 2014 re-election campaign here at home. But when you consider the ridiculous and life-threatening decision made by outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s department to deny the road from King Cove to Cold Bay, it’s hard to see where all this congeniality and deference has gotten Alaska. Murkowski may not want to sacrifice some of her moderate credentials by opposing Jewell, and Begich surely doesn’t want to risk a backlash from his party leadership. And yes, I’m sure Jewell will say all kinds of nice things about having an open mind about Alaska, blah, blah, blah. Such considerations are moot at this point. We’ve heard all that claptrap before. It’s time to play hardball. Supporting Jewell or letting her nomination advance is bad for Alaska and our senators should be united in opposing her. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Full speed ahead for bill repealing cruise ship discharge rules

Dilution is the solution for pollution sums up the Parnell Administration policy when it comes to cruise ship discharges in Alaska waters. A bill being moved quickly by state lawmakers will repeal a 2006 citizens’ initiative that requires cruise ships to meet Alaska water quality standards at the point of discharge, and instead create mixing zones for dumping sewage, hazardous chemicals and other wastes. Alaskans won’t know where those zones are, as House Republicans rejected amendments to require disclosure of the locations. The measure, introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell, was passed already by the House and the Senate Finance committee, the last stop before the bill moves to a vote by the full legislature.   At a press conference, Parnell was asked what he would say to the many Alaskans who pushed for tighter controls on cruise ship discharges, and to the seafood industry which has worked for two decades to build a brand based in part on Alaska’s pure, pristine waters. “I would say that the standards to which cruise ships are currently being held, and will continue to be held with their advanced wastewater treatment systems, are among or surpass the most stringent in the world,” Parnell said. “I would say that the Department of Environmental Conservation’s ability to regulate in accordance with federal and state law, and the stipulations they put on the mixing zones require that marine species not be harmed. I would just say that voters were likely unaware that there is no technology available, and the science advisory panel agrees, that would meet the point of discharge standards that have been set.” “In the balance of protecting the environment and ensuring that our small businesses can still get the benefits of a million cruise ship passengers spending money in our economy, we are making sure that cruise ships will continue to be held to the highest standards, that the environment will continue to be protected, and that our businesses will continue to grow,” Parnell added. Lynn Kent, DEC deputy commissioner, said: “The conclusion of two scientific advisory panels is that the advanced wastewater treatment systems that are on board cruise ships now are really the best that there is. They do a very good job. They treat all of the wastewater that is discharged to a standard that meets all of Alaska’s water quality standards, with the exception of four criteria (for ammonia, copper, nickel and zinc). And even with the legislation that is pending right now, DEC has the authority to continue to look at new technologies that may become available in the future, and to push cruise ships to continue to do better with their wastewater discharges.” A reporter asked Kent how DEC is going to make sure that marine species are not harmed: “You said repeatedly in testimony that the dilution factor is going to make the water quality meet standards. But dilution doesn’t make those four heavy metals go away. There is no way that you can test a moving mixing zone. How are you going to make sure that those species are protected even though while being diluted there is going to be continuous flow of heavy metals into the environment?” Kent’s response: “The water quality standards are designed to protect species and they are based on a concentration of a particular contaminant in the water body. So when a cruise ship is moving at knots or greater, we have calculated through studies that the dilution factor is 50,000 to one. That means that within seconds of discharge from a moving cruise ship, the water quality standards that are protective of aquatic life are met. When we say we can’t measure that, it’s because we couldn’t get close enough to a cruise ship fast enough to actually take a sample in the water body. We do require the cruise ships that discharge in Alaska (to) take samples twice a month for some parameters, and daily for others. There is a tremendous amount of monitoring that goes on. “For the very few cruise ships that are authorized to discharge in port, the mixing zone for those ships under current law is very small, within meters of the vessel. We have the ability to either require the company to monitor at the edge of those mixing zones, or to do it ourselves. We haven’t seen the need to do that because of the tremendous amount of dilution even when they are at port.” Director of the Alaska Cruise Association, John Binkley of Fairbanks, said cruise ships would have a hard time complying with discharge standards under the current legal framework. The floating cities “might have to travel outside of state waters to discharge and could end up spending more money on fuel, or perhaps not coming to Alaska as a result.” Rep. Dan Saddler of Eagle River is co-chair of the House Resources Committee. When asked how he would respond to the concerns of Alaskans and the seafood industry, he replied: “I would say that their aspirations to protect the health of the resource have been heard, and they made a very good faith effort to see if they were achievable in the real world, practically, effectively and economically. They established very strict standards for cruise ships that are not required of other shore-based dischargers, and of course, fishing boats and ferries don’t have to follow those standards either. So I think the science panel found out that the ships were able to use the advanced waste water treatment systems to meet all Alaska water quality criteria, except four, and those were met shortly after discharge in a mixing zone.” Saddler added: “What I would say to people in the seafood industry — frankly, I am concerned about the way the issue has been characterized and maybe exaggerated between dirty and clean. Advanced wastewater treatment systems provide very good treatment for discharges by cruise ships, more so than fishing boats and ferries and shore based. So the more it’s hyped up as being dirty water and terrible discharges, I think to some degree the industry may be harming itself with the focus on that.” About 30 cruise ships carrying a total of nearly one million people visit Alaska over a five-month period. This result is over one billion gallons of cruise discharges being dumped into unknown areas of Alaska state waters every year. On Jan. 29, as the relaxed laws were being fast tracked by legislators, Princess Cruises was fined $20,000 when one of its vessels, the 2,590 passenger Golden Princess, discharged 66,000 gallons of chlorinated pool water into Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Real salmon rally A “say no to GMO salmon” rally in Sitka aimed to raise awareness of the potential risks of genetically modified salmon, which is set to be the first man made animal ever approved for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration. “We really are THE salmon state, so we should be leading the charge on this one,” said event co-organizer Paul Rioux, adding that he’s hopeful other communities will follow suit. He and many others worry that not enough is known about the risks posed by genetically tweaked salmon to humans, other fish and the environment. Ray Friedlander of the Sitka Conservation Society also worries about market impacts. “In Southeast Alaska, wild salmon are the backbone of our economy and produce over 4,000 jobs. With mass production of GM salmon, how can we say the price won’t go down and affect the market for salmon in Alaska,” Friedlander said. “I think it will hurt Alaska’s identity and the Tongass’ identity as being a wild salmon producing forest.” Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Begich introduced legislation on Feb. 8 to ban “Frankenfish” or to require labeling if the fish is approved. Begich is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

The Bookworm Sez: Shift attitude to change attitude

Lately, you’ve noticed that everyone runs when you enter the building. You have to admit that you’ve been grumpy for quite some time now. You’ve tried to blame it on the weather, the economy, personal problems, but the fact is that grouchy is your new normal. Even clients have noticed. So what can you do to remove the black cloud that surrounds you? How can you find the contentment that you had eons ago? In the new book “Get Your Shift Together” by Steve Rizzo, you might find a roadmap. So you’ve been mighty irritated lately about things over which you have no control. You grumble and snarl, and you make life miserable for everyone — including yourself. You might think you can’t help it, but Rizzo has a different opinion. Years ago, he was a comedian and just about the time he was hitting the pinnacle of his career, he realized how totally unhappy he was. When he heard a motivational speaker talk about attitude, it hit him: happiness isn’t just something the Declaration of Independence says you can pursue. It’s something you can really catch. The way to seize happiness has to do with attitude, but Rizzo says that “changing” your attitude is harsh. Instead, he says you should shift it, by taking tiny steps. Start tomorrow morning by thinking about the things for which you’re most grateful. Throw out the “I’ll be happy when…” thoughts and focus on being happy now. Do that by living in the moment because “happiness can only be experienced in the present.” Enjoy the process of life, which is the “ultimate success,” far better than any raise, corner office, or promotion. You will, says Rizzo, have many choices throughout your day, and choosing your attitude is “empowering.” Also remember that situations are not what determine quality of life — it’s how you respond to them that matters. Use humor to shift your perceptions by looking for laughter. Don’t buy into old childhood labels. Remember that what you think is what you get, but just because you say it to yourself doesn’t make something true. Exhibit kindness. Watch out for a bad-day “snowball effect.” Understand that smiling isn’t required all the time. Always remember that you’re just where you’re supposed to be. Although there is a bit more U-Rah-Rah than I can normally appreciate, and though there’s a fair amount of repetition for such a small volume, “Get Your Shift Together” ain’t otherwise too bad. Author Steve Rizzo makes a lot of good points in this book, and I liked the way he emphasizes “shifting” attitude. That really does sound easier than a full-blown change, even though change is what he says you’ll teach yourself over time by following his ideas. I also particularly liked the celebrity tales that Rizzo offers, including one that’s so profoundly sad, it’ll break your heart. Overall, despite its occasional chirpiness, I think “Get Your Shift Together” could change your ‘tude, even if only just a little bit. For grumpy, growly, grouchy you, it can help because shift happens. Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

AJOC EDITORIAL: Session gets off to fast start

First the good news from Juneau. Those with concerns about a slow session of the Alaska Legislature with a rush to close at the end, forget it. The pace started fast and is accelerating. Members of the Alaska State Chamber spent a couple of days during their annual “Fly-In” to the capitol talking to legislators and their staff about oil tax reform, the cost of energy and ways to loosen the permitting stranglehold on new Alaska projects. The atmosphere is electric, intense, all business. The halls of the Capitol are Juneau’s version of rush hour, with legislators jogging by, waving greetings and quick comments between hearings and meetings. Long-time Capitol watchers agree the intensity and fast start is something new. The governor, house and senate leadership all came to the session prepared, plans in place, ready to move fast. Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan is simple (as simple as anything can be with oil) — incentivize production, eliminate progressivism, be fair to all Alaskans, and make it workable for the long-term. Now the rest of the story. The usual and democratic process of tweaking, amending, second-guessing and rewriting began before the session started. While the governor now has a substantial majority of Senate supporters, compared to last year’s deadlock that doomed any tax reform, there are lots of cooks stirring the pot. The key will be sticking to the task, to keep it simple and not amend any legislation to death. Alaskans must be willing to make a little less on each barrel and drop of oil, in exchange for a lot more volume and revenue. “It’s our oil!” was a popular anti-reform theme last fall, from those concerned that the state will give away too much. “Yes, it is our oil,” somebody quipped in Juneau last week, “and you want to take a bucket to the North Slope and scoop it out of the ground yourself?” Alaska needs oil industry partners to find, produce and sell its natural resources. Oil partners who are committed, profitable and successful. The alternative (and current model) is scary and absolute — getting maximum return from oil no company is willing to produce. We have to embrace that the energy marketplace has changed radically. We are no longer the only game in town and we need to beware of the day when we have oil and no market. Alaska’s oil doesn’t convert into a better-funded state while it is in the ground. Successful business people know you can’t spend more than you earn. You can count yourself successful if you make more than you spend, and save for a successful future. The fast start in Juneau is encouraging. But results are what counts — this is not a year for endless special sessions.

EDITORIAL: US Air Force wants to hear about Eielson F-16 study

Mark it on your calendar: Air Force officials will be in town Feb. 6 and Feb. 7 to conduct public meetings regarding the proposed transfer of Eielson Air Force Base’s F-16 squadron to Anchorage. The trip to the Interior will follow meetings Feb. 4 and Feb. 5 in Anchorage and in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to take public comment about the proposed move of the aircraft and hundreds of personnel to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The purpose of the meetings is to set the parameters of an environmental impact statement, a study required under the National Environmental Police Act. The meetings are an opportunity for Fairbanks and state leaders to speak directly to Air Force brass about their plan, which has come under withering criticism from U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, Rep. Don Young and others. The congressional delegation, along with Fairbanks elected and civic leaders and Gov. Sean Parnell, have questioned the military’s projected cost savings. Yes, the Air Force does need to reduce its budget. It and the other branches of the military have been ordered to downsize. But state and community leaders here have an obligation to stand up for Fairbanks to make sure we are being treated fairly and that the Air Force isn’t overlooking important information. Meetings will be held 6 to 8 p.m., but locations have yet to be announced. Let’s make sure the Air Force hears us. And, if you’ve still got one, it might be good to wear your “Save Eielson” T-shirt from 2005.

AJOC EDITORIAL: State should foot the bill for salmon disaster

Effective Jan. 22, the federal government made official what has been the policy since statehood in 1959: Alaska is in charge of its salmon fisheries. The first fishery management plan approved after the passage of the original Magnuson Act in 1976 was the Alaska salmon FMP delegating that responsibility to the Department of Fish & Game. After revisions to what later became the Magnuson-Stevens Act were passed in 2006, all FMPs were required to be updated within five years to meet new requirements for setting annual catch limits and accountability measures. The result was the North Pacific Fishery Management Council amending the salmon FMP in 2011 to officially remove waters near Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula from federal control. The only state-managed salmon fishery that officially remains within the federal FMP is the Southeast salmon troll fishery that must be managed in accord with the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. After poor chinook returns to the Yukon, Kuskokwim, Kenai and Mat-Su Valley rivers in 2012 severely restricted or shut down fishing by subsistence, commercial and sport users, Gov. Sean Parnell sought and received federal disaster declarations from the U.S. Department of Commerce under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. However, on Jan. 14, the U.S. House of Representatives refused to approve $150 million in fisheries disaster funding passed by the Senate in December to cover losses in Alaska, New England and the Gulf of Mexico. The Alaska Congressional delegation has vowed to keep up the fight to secure disaster funding, but the thought from this perspective is that it is time for the State of Alaska to step up and take care of its own. When its citizens are hurting, a state with a $16 billion savings account and a AAA credit rating should not be twiddling its thumbs waiting on a bankrupt and dysfunctional federal government to send $20 million or so our way. Even if Congress were to approve the money, it will be left to National Marine Fisheries Service to determine how and where the money is distributed. For a state that constantly complains about federal interference in our affairs — and that has expressly told the U.S. government to butt out of our salmon management — it makes no sense to go begging for some cash from Uncle Sugar when Alaska is in the best position financially to assess losses and distribute aid. We are only a few months away from the first salmon openers, and nobody is forecasting a sudden rebound in chinook salmon runs. Will the State of Alaska’s plan from here forward be to ask the feds for money every time a salmon run is weak? If the state does not want to set a precedent by aiding salmon-dependent communities in this case, it is no better a precedent to repeatedly seek federal disaster aid for a fishery that is wholly managed by the state. It is one thing to seek assistance based on federal responsibilities to restrict subsistence fishing on the Yukon in order to meet our treaty obligations with Canada, as was the case in 2009. It is quite another to ask the feds to make Cook Inlet setnetters or Kenai River lodge owners whole when they were shut down based on management decisions created through the state’s public Board of Fisheries process and carried out by ADFG. Unlike the New England groundfish fishery, which is completely under federal jurisdiction, Alaska controls salmon management from the spawning grounds to 200 miles from shore with a six-member majority on the North Pacific council. Yet despite this majority since Magnuson was passed, it wasn’t until more than 120,000 chinooks were taken in the Bering Sea pollock fishery in 2007 that the North Pacific council passed a bycatch cap that took effect in 2011. Similarly in the Gulf of Alaska, it wasn’t until that pollock fleet took some 50,000 chinooks in 2010 that a cap was passed that took effect midway through last year. The Magnuson-Stevens Act certainly does include a provision to seek fishery disaster aid based on natural disasters, undetermined causes or manmade effects such as the BP oil spill. One of the conditions, though, is that the disaster must affect “a major fishery managed by the Council.” For more than 35 years since Magnuson passed, the State of Alaska has managed salmon with a fair share of success, and has not been shy about bragging on itself for having the best fishery management in the world. When things go badly, from natural causes, mismanagement or a combination of both, the state needs to accept responsibility for those outcomes as well. Passing the buck — and the hat — to the feds is the wrong way to make things right for those who need help now.

EDITORIAL: Shell incident serious, but doesn't deserve overreaction

On Jan. 5, while the Shell drill rig Kulluk was bobbing along the shores of Sitkalidak Island, a fuel leak inside a fish processing vessel triggered the bilge pump and sent 150 gallons of diesel fuel into Kodiak Harbor. This past Nov. 13, the tug Polar Wind was pulling the barge Unimak Trader between Sand Point and Dutch Harbor when it lost its towline, began taking on water and went aground on Ukolnoi Island east of Cold Bay. Investigators discovered that some 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the Polar Wind within Steller sea lion critical habitat but had been dissipated by the adverse weather. Last June in Kodiak, the U.S. Army landing craft Monterrey struck Kalsin Reef and spilled 15,000 gallons of No. 2 diesel into Chiniak Bay, resulting in the largest spill at Kodiak in more than a decade and a cleanup of fuel that washed up on the Emerald Isle’s beaches. At the time, this is what Steven Russell of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation told the Kodiak Mirror (emphasis ours): “We consider this a significant spill. We have spills of this size (statewide) fairly frequently, usually in the winter months during vessel groundings.” Every one of the above incidents involved transportation accidents or malfunctions that resulted in fuel spills that reached beaches and/or critical habitat for various fish and mammal species. Not one, however, received the sort of attention that the drifting and eventual grounding of the Kulluk has gotten without a drop of oil or diesel being spilled. This isn’t meant to minimize the seriousness of what has happened with the Kulluk, but rather to put it into the proper context. None of the above incidents triggered any debate over tug-and-barge transportation, at-sea fish processing or the Army’s competence. Yet today, the opponents of Shell’s quest to explore and eventually produce oil from the Outer Continental Shelf off Alaska’s Arctic coast want to use the Kulluk incident as proof positive that Shell cannot “master” Arctic conditions and should therefore be stopped in its tracks. Here’s a newsflash: Nobody has ever conquered Alaska’s weather or its seas, and if the bar for operating in Alaska is mastering Mother Nature then every fishing boat, tug, barge and cargo ship should be tied up permanently. Although Shell was able to complete limited “top hole” work in the Arctic without incident in a shortened season last summer and fall, a series of mishaps and technical problems preceding its flotilla reaching the Chukchi and Beaufort seas has also contributed to the heightened attention to the Kulluk grounding and legitimate questions about whether the company knows what it is doing. To be sure, Shell cannot be let off the hook for the issues with its spill response barge Arctic Challenger resulting in the vessel being denied certification to operate in the OCS and thereby preventing the company from drilling to oil-bearing depths. There are also the recent reports of alleged crew safety violations with the other drill ship Noble Discoverer that held it up in Seward for weeks while the Coast Guard investigated, which are more troubling from this perspective than a tug engine failure, possibly from contaminated fuel, that contributed to the grounding of the Kulluk. After five years of preparation and false starts for its Arctic operation, Shell should have had its boxes checked on issues such as electrical systems and safety measures long before now, and had those problems not arisen there would be less ammunition for the company’s critics, who, in any case, need none at all in their attempts to shoot down OCS development. Investigations under way by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Coast Guard should be welcomed by Shell, and we of course hope they don’t become politically driven even though that is probably a wildly optimistic sentiment with Congressional vultures already circling. There are serious questions for Shell, but using this incident as a reason to stop OCS exploration is an opportunistic overreaction by those who oppose development of all kinds all the time and must be resisted.

EDITORIAL: Nome fuel run highlights spirit, challenges of Alaska

As evidenced by the endless lineup of “reality” television shows filmed in our state, Alaska makes for good television. No contrived drama on a crab boat or a suction dredge was more compelling in 2012, though, than the sight of the Coast Guard cutter Healy clearing a path through the frozen Bering Sea for a Russian tanker to deliver vital heating oil and gasoline to Nome this January. After an early winter storm prevented the last scheduled fuel delivery to Nome, the community and surrounding villages faced the prospect of supply shortages by March or $9 per gallon gas if it had to be flown in. At the time, the human element versus Mother Nature and the parallels to the Serum Run to Nome in 1925 that inspires the Iditarod today made for enough of a story to draw eyes from around the globe. But on further reflection as we review the top stories of the year, the run of the Russian tanker Renda to an iced-in harbor cleared by a U.S. Coast Guard vessel said so much more about the spirit of Alaska, the challenges we face and our ability to overcome. First, the weather. What others consider extreme, we consider routine. Fuel and supply deliveries to harbors like Nome or to villages up the Yukon or Kuskokwim rivers must happen before freeze-up, a fact of life rural Alaskans take for granted in the same way Lower 48ers know they can always find cocoa and marshmallows at a grocer that’s probably only a few minutes drive away.  Which leads us to another aspect of the story — the fragility of our supply chain. Whether it’s a fuel tanker headed for Nome or a Horizon container ship from Tacoma on its weekly run to Anchorage, we depend on deliveries from Outside that are one natural disaster away from being interrupted. The 5.9 magnitude earthquake that shook Anchorage Dec. 4 combined with warnings about the vulnerability of the Port of Anchorage dock construction should serve as a fresh reminder to all of us to be prepared. And while Alaska must ensure we have a durable infrastructure, the Renda fuel run highlighted the woeful shortcomings in our Coast Guard fleet when it comes to icebreaking capability. The Healy, the smallest of the Coast Guard icebreakers, was also the only one available to provide aid with the other two laid up for either repairs or possible decommissioning. With ongoing development in the Arctic Ocean, federal resources must be directed to building up the infrastructure and Coast Guard assets in Alaska. Yes, budgets are tight and our debt must be brought under control, but putting the resources into construction and shipbuilding are a far better use of taxpayer funds than the billions we are now pouring into unemployment and food stamps. The story of the Renda further drew attention to the high cost of energy in the state. It’s hard to imagine a situation elsewhere in the U.S. for which such a risky mission was actually the most cost effective means to deliver fuel, but in this case it was. Of course we must take a moment here to thank the amazing men and women of the Coast Guard who play such a vital role in Alaska, and whose sacrifice and bravery protect our communities and the fearless fishermen who ply our waters in the most dangerous conditions imaginable. Finally, the Renda fuel run was a fine example of the public and private sectors working together. All too often in Alaska, we have to take on a federal government that is either singling us out — targeting Bypass Mail or Alaska Railroad funding — or attempting to apply a one-size-fits-all approach as is the case with the Emission Control Area that threatens to raise the cost of everything shipped here and to devastate our tourism economy. However, in this case we had a private company, Vitus Marine, contract with one of our Alaska Native corporations, Sitnasuak Corp., to arrange the delivery with the aid of a public asset from the Coast Guard. Vitus Marine isn’t done helping Alaska, either. The company is constructing a 5-million gallon tank farm at Port MacKenzie that has the prospect to bring competition to the Alaska fuel market and lower prices. Using technologically advanced tug-and-barge systems, Vitus spent the summer after the Renda run continuing to deliver fuel and goods to Western Alaska. We need strong private companies like Vitus and a responsible public sector at the local and federal level in Alaska. The only way to make that happen is with the resourceful and hearty spirit of the Last Frontier on display during the Renda’s run to Nome. Here’s hoping we see more of that in 2013, and Happy Holidays to all.

EDITORIAL: Setting it straight on EPA review, DC numbers games

In my Dec. 2 editorial on the peer review of the Environmental Protection Agency assessment of risks from mining to the Bristol Bay watershed, I advised the agency to “take its medicine” from experts who found fault with aspects of the hypothetical mine scenario used in the document. Looks like I could use a spoonful of sugar right about now. After reading the 193-page document it was clear that the summary of “key recommendations” from reviewers had disproportionately relied on the comments from Roy Stein, a fisheries scientist from Ohio State University who revealed an anti-Pebble mine bias throughout his review. However, it was not, as I wrote, the EPA that heavily selected from Stein’s comments in preparing the summary. Rather, it was EPA vendor Versar that prepared the summary of reviewer recommendations. Versar is a Springfield, Va., company that selected the experts including Stein who conducted the review. An environmental services firm, Versar relies upon government work for about 90 percent of its income, according to the company’s 2012 annual report, and currently has several contracts worth potentially millions of dollars with the EPA according to the agency’s Office of Acquisition Management. The broader conclusion still stands, namely, that both the EPA’s Bristol Bay assessment and the summary of peer review recommendations don’t measure up to quality scientific work, nor do they foretell a fair process going forward. In this event, though, the mistake was mine and I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to you, our valued readers, and to the EPA for the error. As we call on others to be accountable, we will expect no less from ourselves. That’s a statement I feel safe to say I won’t have to take back. Numbers games As we draw nearer the so-called “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax rates for all income brackets and across-the-board budget cuts required under the 2011 debt ceiling deal, there has yet to be any responsible leadership out of a White House that should no longer be in campaign mode. After calling for a “balanced” approach during that campaign, President Barack Obama and his party remain firmly fixated on raising tax rates for the top 2 percent of income earners without proposing any spending cuts. The GOP looks poised to cave, although it has proposed raising tax revenue through eliminating or capping deductions rather than hiking rates. Higher rates on the top 2 percent are projected to bring in $80 billion per year. With an annual federal deficit of more than $1.1 trillion, taxing the “rich” doesn’t get us anywhere, and it’s a silly argument to pretend that just taking a little more from some will make our fiscal problems go away. The little-reported fact about the Bush tax cuts is that the reductions for the middle class and low income earners (10 million of whom were taken off the rolls completely) amount to $3.2 trillion over 10 years. That’s where the real money is, and after the Democrats eat the rich, the government beast will be turning its hungry eyes on everyone else. What is truly frustrating is that everyone in Washington appears to believe the only way to raise revenue is by increasing taxes. That’s wrong. Economic growth will raise revenue without raising taxes, but right now there isn’t anyone proposing anything that radical. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Groups should pay contractors for lost wages

In a rare act for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a sensible decision was handed down Nov. 28 when a three-judge panel reversed an Oct. 1 stay that halted construction on the rail extension at Port MacKenzie. The Oct. 1 stay, also originating from a 9th Circuit decision that included the vote of a judicial relic from the Carter Administration, idled about 200 workers for nearly two months in an entirely unnecessary delay based on a petty challenge to the project on technical grounds brought by Cook Inletkeeper and the Sierra Club. Cook Inletkeeper and the Sierra Club sued the Surface Transportation Board on the grounds that the “purpose and need” section of the environmental analysis did not meet the standards of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The State of Alaska, the Mat-Su Borough and the Alaska Railroad Corp. moved to intervene to defend the STB action. In issuing the Oct. 1 stay, the two justices of the 9th Circuit ignored the fact that Cook Inletkeeper and Sierra Club had not exhausted their administrative remedies by appealing to the STB. The lone dissenting judge at the time correctly noted that alone should have forced the suit to fail. It’s difficult to quantify just how ridiculous the original Oct. 1 stay was, given that one of the key criteria to issuing such orders is the likelihood that the petitioners will succeed on the merits of their case. Although nothing changed between Oct. 1 and Nov. 28, the second three-judge panel found that there was no “serious question” about the STB action — as the first decision stated — and that the balance of hardship clearly titled to the intervenors based on the costs of extending the work stoppage estimated to be between $10 million and $12 million. In the big picture of litigation directed at the state resource industry, this legal skirmish won’t go down in the history books but is illustrative of the frivolous and continuous obstacles thrown up at every turn by typically Outside funded groups that prevent Alaskans from going to work. The Sierra Club, Cook Inletkeeper or Alaska Conservation Foundation don’t have any concern for the 200 or so workers that were deprived of paychecks for two months at Port MacKenzie. And why should they when their money comes from San Francisco hedge fund and tech billionaires who have made their fortunes from the very activities they seek to prevent in Alaska. It is curious that the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, started by hedge fund billionaires James Simons and his son Nathanial Simons, no longer appears as a donor in the 2010 and 2011 annual reports of the Alaska Conservation Foundation after being listed in 2008 and 2009. According to the 2011 IRS form 990 for the Sea Change Foundation, also run by the Simons family and which funds tens of millions to the Energy Foundation, a grant of $1.85 million was made to ACF in 2011 with another $3 million or so to the Sierra Club. ACF then distributes its grant funding to other organizations, including Cook Inletkeeper. The grant to ACF was listed as “anonymous” in its 2011 annual report. The irony of the Simons money funding anti-resource activities in Alaska cannot be overstated. For all the attacks on “Outside” and “foreign” companies leveled by the self-righteous environmental movement in Alaska, the simple truth is those kind of companies — not to mention cigarette and drug manufacturers — are the ones that fund their efforts. ACF and the Energy Foundation may want to keep their connection anonymous, but an examination of Simons’ most recent Rentec hedge fund holdings shows that it owns $33 million worth of shares in Rio Tinto and another $32.6 million in Royal Dutch Shell. Of course, two of the biggest causes for environmental groups are stopping the Pebble mine and Arctic Ocean oil production currently led by Shell. During the last quarter ended Sept. 30, though, Rentec’s holdings in Shell more than doubled. It’s also worth noting the $33 million in shares of Rio Tinto held by Rentec amount to about 16.5 percent of the $200 million that company invested to acquire a nearly 10 percent stake in the Pebble prospect. Conservation groups funded by the very companies they are opposing. That uncomfortable fact won’t cost them any money, but they are costing others plenty. And when they lose, like they did at Port MacKenzie, they should pay up.

Interior voters dismantle Senate majority

Fairbanks voters saw to it that the Senate Bipartisan Working Group would not survive the 2012 election. As Anchorage voters cast ballots to preserve the status quo by reelecting oil tax reform opponents Sens. Hollis French and Bill Wielechowski, Interior residents sent two Democrat incumbents packing and elected Republican Click Bishop to an open seat. Eagle River voters flipped another Democratic seat to the GOP by electing Rep. Anna Fairclough against incumbent Bettye Davis, who was redistricted into former senator status. Of course it’s far too early to know how the structure and leadership of the Senate will shake out, but change is certain after the previous 10-10 party split with only seven Democrats remaining, five new Republican senators heading for Juneau and the four-member GOP minority fully intact after its leader John Coghill took out Democrat Joe Thomas in Fairbanks by a wide margin. Surviving GOP members of the previous majority include Senate President Gary Stevens of Kodiak and Majority Leader Kevin Meyer of Anchorage. Of the five new GOP senators, all but Bishop campaigned expressly against the 16-member majority controlled by Democrats. In fact, during his primary, Bishop declined to sign a pledge to caucus only with a GOP majority. However, all he needs to do is look around the Interior at the fates of Joe Paskvan and Thomas to understand the consequences of failing to deliver for his constituents. It’s not surprising that Interior voters, who are far more in touch with the resource industry and their electric bills, would vote to blow up the do-nothing Senate while voters in the service-based economy of Anchorage would have no problem sending a couple unproductive legislators like French and Wielechowski back to the capitol. French is holding on to a 249-vote lead over Bob Bell with absentee ballots still to be counted while Wielechowski crushed Bob Roses in a fine example of how adopting your opponent’s positions is a bad way to win an election. Thankfully, in their new minority status, this pair should have a hard time finding committee chairmanships or anything resembling the sway they had in the last legislative session. Even as it controlled the Senate by a huge margin against a four-member minority, the majority was unwieldy, incoherent and unable to produce any legislation to address the issues of oil taxes, coastal management, declining North Slope production or the unsustainable cost of energy throughout the state. Clearly, the Alaska voters spoke out against the gridlock in Juneau, preserving the GOP House majority and rejecting nearly half the Senate coalition between the primary and general elections. With President Barack Obama winning a second term, it is even clearer that Alaskans must take over their own destiny on our lands as we face four more years of this administration’s ideological and anti-resource EPA and Department of the Interior. We’ve never endorsed the oil tax proposal offered by Gov. Sean Parnell, but here’s hoping that new faces and the diminished role of his most vociferous opponents will finally allow something productive to be accomplished on a host of issues that are long past due for addressing.   The presidential race There’s not a lot to be said about an outcome that will undoubtedly hurt Alaska over the next four years, so I’ll just leave you with the words of the candidates and one wise Iron Lady: “If you’re looking for free stuff you don’t have to pay for, vote for the other guy.” — Mitt Romney to a heckler, March 20, 2012 “If you have a business, you didn’t build that.” — Obama, July 13, 2012 “I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” — Obama, April 29, 2010 “Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money.” — Margaret Thatcher, Feb. 5, 1976   Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Editorial: Romney gets in Obama's face over lies on energy

Back in September 2008 during the good ol’ days of Hopenchange, then-candidate Barack Obama gave the following instructions to one of his adoring crowds in Nevada: “I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors. I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face.” When it came to the issue of federal permitting for oil and gas development, Republican nominee Mitt Romney took that advice during the second presidential debate on Oct. 16 and produced one of the most compelling moments in the history of such events when he stepped across the town hall stage and peppered Obama with the facts of his disastrous energy policy. In the town hall format, Obama was at his best. Unfortunately, Obama’s best means he’s at his most demagogic and dishonest. Throughout this campaign, about the only accurate thing that has come out of this president’s mouth is: “I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message.” Other than that, it’s been an avalanche of lies and distortions about Romney that have unraveled in the space of just two 90-minute debates. One of his bigger whoppers has been exposed in both of them. Obama repeated his assertion that oil and gas production has increased in the U.S. under his watch. Romney, just as he debunked that claim in the first debate, again refused to let Obama get away with it and pointed out that the increase in domestic production is entirely attributable to development on private lands, not public. Romney correctly cited the U.S. Energy Department’s own numbers that oil production on federal lands was down 14 percent and gas production was down 11 percent in 2011. Romney also claimed that federal permits for oil and gas on and offshore have been cut in half. “Not true, Governor,” said Obama with a typically flippant gesture. “So how much did you cut it by?” Romney asked. Five times, Romney asked Obama by how much he’s cut back on issuing drilling permits and leases. Finally cornered, Obama went into some nonsensical answer about “use it or lose it” that bore no resemblance to an answer. It’s not surprising that President You Didn’t Build That would have a hard time distinguishing the difference between public and private lands, or that he would have no shame about taking credit for energy successes he had nothing to do with. According to a CNN fact check, federal leases are down 42 percent from President George W. Bush and drilling permits are down 37 percent. But that’s not “half,” so those objective fact checkers at CNN rated the claim as “off the mark.” In the world of fast-and-loose political statements, I’d call Romney’s attack on Obama “close enough.” After all, it was the Obama administration that issued illegal offshore drilling moratoriums in the Gulf of Mexico and the Alaska outercontinental shelf following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. It is the Obama administration that refused to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have created 20,000 construction jobs in the U.S. and provided hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from a friendly and stable source. It is the Obama administration that just withdrew half the area from the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and chose a plan that could prevent a pipeline from being built across the Slope from the Chukchi Sea to TAPS. It is the Obama administration’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that has blown off issuing a record of decision for Point Thomson, costing the state about 1,000 construction jobs this winter. The same Obama administration, though, from the same Interior Department that is closing off half of NPR-A, just announced a streamlined process for approving solar farms on public lands. The day of the second debate, another one of Obama’s green energy project companies, A123, filed for bankruptcy. As Romney has pointed out more than once, you can’t run a car on wind. Obama is proving that you can run a campaign on it though.

Editorial: Board must take up kings, take no more from setnetters

The — now official —disaster in Cook Inlet during the 2012 salmon season is back in front of the Board of Fisheries at its upcoming annual work session Oct. 9 to 11 in Anchorage. Issues between the sport and commercial users that are contentious in the best of times will be front and center against the backdrop of a record-low return of Kenai kings in 2012 with the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, pushing for a full evaluation of king salmon management while Peninsula setnetters and the statewide United Fishermen of Alaska are opposing the KRSA agenda change request. The issue upon which the two sides agree is the need to formally adopt new escapement goals for the Kenai and Kasilof river kings based on the new DIDSON fish counters deployed fully in 2012 after three years of side-by-side testing against previous sonar counters. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which originally planned to present new DIDSON-based escapement goals for the regularly scheduled 2014 Upper Cook Inlet meeting, now says it has the capability to present goals in time for 2013. The discussion around the new goals developed by ADFG, what current counts reveal about the status of the Kenai River king salmon stocks, and how ADFG will use existing authorities under the current management to achieve the goals should be a productive step toward achieving a more orderly 2013 season. In 2012, near total closures of the sport and commercial setnet fisheries were required to meet Kenai River king salmon escapement goals. The setnet fishermen lost out on 95 percent of their typical annual harvest while the tourism sector suffered from cancelations and lost visitor traffic. Both commercial and sport fishing industries recognize the need to conserve king salmon and achieve a sustainable fishery. It is certainly not in the setnetters’ interest — especially after a total loss in 2012 — for diminishing returns of king salmon and the restrictions to their sector that go along with it. However, the setnetters also believe that when KRSA is pushing for a change in management it is typically going to cost them money. At the 2011 Upper Cook Inlet meeting of the Board of Fisheries, setnetters were helpless as the four-member majority took measure after measure proposed by KRSA that included a new mandated closures on Tuesdays in addition to the current “weekend window” closures on Fridays, the decoupling of their sector from the drift fleet and a provision for a more expedient closure to their season after Aug. 1. The allocative shifts away from the setnetters were worth millions during the first season under the new rules in 2011, and with low forecasts for Kenai River kings in the near future they can anticipate even more of their historical catch going up the river or into the drift fleet’s pockets. It is important for the board to remember that when it comes to allocations, a bedrock principle of management is history in the fishery. For setnetters who have, in some cases, fished the same sites for generations, it is no easy thing to swallow to see their allocations consistently eroded by a relatively new user group as is the sport guide industry. A setnetter shouldn’t lose fishing opportunity merely by the nature of someone starting a guide business or building a fancy cabin along the Kenai River. They also shouldn’t be told that a dollar they earn to feed their families and support the local communities is less valuable than a dollar earned by a guide or a B&B. For the value of the Cook Inlet commercial fishery to the state economy goes far beyond the $50 million in ex-vessel value it is usually pegged at by the sport industry. Only considering ex-vessel value ignores the impacts of fuel and supply purchases, processing jobs, crew wages spent throughout the community, the transportation and logistics infrastructure necessary to move 25 million pounds of salmon to domestic and international markets, and the end-user spending at retail and fine restaurants where Alaska salmon is served. The setnetters have more than borne their fair share of conservation for Kenai River kings. As the board considers changes in management, they should not weigh them down any more.

Editorial: Obama, media friends are an embarrassment after 9/11 attacks

It has been a difficult week for those of us deeply concerned about our national security and the safety of our fellow Americans risking their lives as soldiers and diplomats around the world. And for those of us who still believe our chosen profession of journalism demands holding those in power accountable, it has been downright discouraging. As an al-Qaeda flag flew over our Egyptian embassy in Cairo and an affiliated group of terrorists attacked and murdered our Libyan ambassador along with three other Americans on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, President Barack Obama’s lapdog media were in a quandary. Blaming former President George W. Bush — as Obama and the mainstream media do for pretty much everything — wasn’t an option. Even Obama’s acolytes in the press couldn’t spin it that way given the situations in Libya and Egypt are wholly owned by the current administration that toppled those governments in 2011 and handed them over to roving bands of militias and the Muslim Brotherhood. Inspired by the ease with which American outposts had fallen on Sept. 11 — the real video that sparked the mayhem — violence spread to more than 20 countries from Algeria to Indonesia while Obama skipped his intelligence briefing on Sept. 12 to head off to yet another fundraiser, this one in Las Vegas. So with blaming Bush out, and blaming Obama forever out of the question despite mounting evidence of his incompetence, inattention to his duties and foreign policy failures, the dutiful media settled on the next best thing: Blame Mitt Romney. Romney, you see, had the temerity to issue a statement blasting the weak-kneed statements of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, whose Twitter feed had issued and then stood by its condemnation of some film mocking Mohammed even as the American flag was being torn to shreds by a Muslim mob. The embassy did issue a perfunctory statement against the violation of our sovereignty, but that came alongside a full-throated denunciation of an American exercising his First Amendment rights that equated the actions of a mob to the act of free speech. Rather than ask the most basic questions on Sept. 12 — such as why our Libyan consulate and ambassador lacked even basic security despite coming under repeated attacks over the last several months, or why it had not been ensured the Cairo embassy would be protected by Egyptian forces with advance warnings of the impending attack — the vast majority of the media spent the entire day attacking Romney. You’d have thought Romney was actually the president the way his response to the 9/11 attacks was dissected by the press, who were caught on an open mic coordinating their questions to the GOP nominee but still asked the same question at least five times. Of course, they couldn’t ask anything of Obama, who issued a half-hearted statement about the attacks from the Rose Garden Sept. 12 and took no questions before jetting off to Vegas. Politicians can be expected to be politicians, and now, sadly, the media can be expected to do whatever they think is necessary to get Obama reelected. Sure, the media can be expected to carry water for liberals on their favorite social issues like gay marriage, but now we’ve learned that even American deaths overseas cannot shake the media’s infatuation with this president and their desire to protect him at all cost. With few exceptions, the media has been an embarrassment since the 9/11/12 attacks. They have continued to assert the violence is all the result of the Mohammed video — echoing the central talking point from a White House that can’t afford to be seen as weak on foreign policy less than two months from an election, and after spending its entire Democratic National Convention spiking the football over killing Osama bin Laden. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice also beclowned herself on all four Sunday morning talk shows on Sept. 16, continuing to claim against all available evidence that the murder of our Libyan ambassador was part of a spontaneous uprising over the film. The mainstream, leftwing press has also stood idly by with barely a murmur of dissent as the White House admitted it asked YouTube to review the Mohammed video to see if it violated the terms of use, and federal agents began investigating the filmmaker for potential probation violations. In fact, rather than simply stand by, as contemptible as that is, the press has eagerly jumped into the fray by publishing the filmmaker’s name, his address and photos of his home. Local law enforcement arrived en masse for a midnight knock on the filmmaker’s door and took him in for questioning while covering his face because the White House and its media accomplices have now put this man and his neighbors’ lives in jeopardy. Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot eight times, nearly decapitated and stabbed in the chest in broad daylight in Amsterdam in 2004 for the “crime” of offending Muslims. That doesn’t seem to matter to the media doing the White House bidding. But hey, did you hear the story about Romney’s dog?

EDITORIAL: Alaskans do their part to help economic climate

Although some candidates no doubt disagree, Alaskan voters got it right Aug. 28. Only 24 percent of the electorate turned out to vote on one of the last beautiful days of summer, but those who made it to the ballot box did their part to prevent negative impacts on the state business climate. By a resounding margin of nearly 2-to-1, voters rejected Ballot Measure 2, a 15-page initiative to create a new coastal zone management program to replace the prior regime that expired in 2011 when the legislature failed to renew it. Better than residents of any other state, Alaskans understand the obstacles thrown in our path from the federal government. To cite just a few fresh examples: The Environmental Protection Agency has slapped expensive new fuel standards on the transport companies and cruise ships that play a critical role in our economy, threatening to raise the cost of everything we consume and the cost for tourists visiting our state. The Interior Department has just withdrawn half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska from development and chosen an alternative that may make construction of a pipeline from the Chukchi Sea to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System extremely difficult. Most recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision to delay a final record of decision on the environmental impact statement for Point Thomson will cost the state as many as 1,000 construction jobs this winter alone if the agency does not stick to its previously promised late September deadline. Nevertheless, Alaskan voters weren’t buying the argument that by failing to pass Ballot Measure 2 we were ceding our destiny to the federal government. Passing the measure would have only given a host of new tools to the litigious green groups to challenge permitting decisions or whether the eventual regulations comply with the intent of the initiative. We can’t blame backers of the measure for being frustrated with the legislature’s failure to extend the coastal zone management program, and we commend their effort to put the measure before voters, but if they want to effect real change in Juneau they’ll have their opportunity Nov. 6. The ballots still aren’t fully counted, but we were heartened to see the narrow margin in the decision over Ballot Measure 1, an initiative to allow cities and boroughs to raise the property tax exemption from the current $20,000 to $50,000. As of the most recent count Sept. 4, the “yes” votes were ahead by a mere 284 votes out of 115,774 ballots counted with absentee votes still being tallied. The result of local governments raising the property tax exemption would shift budget burdens on to businesses and renters, impacting job creators and those of lesser means who are typically pinched by high costs in low vacancy areas already. While it would certainly seem to serve self-interest to vote to lower taxes on yourself and higher taxes for others, no matter what the final tally eventually is we were glad to see so many Alaskans choose the greater good over their own. It’s a lesson our elected officials would do well to take to heart.  

Editorial: Against Props 1 and 2, for Vazquez in District J

Alaskans go to the polls Aug. 28 to decide primary races and two ballot initiatives. Here are some final thoughts: Against Prop 1: This measure would allow municipalities to raise the property tax exemption from the first $20,000 in value to as much as $50,000. It’s been advanced by some folks in Fairbanks including former Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker, who told the Anchorage Daily News that he understands this will raise property taxes on businesses. It’s not surprising that Whitaker would want to relieve the cost of living for his former constituents in one of the most expensive places to reside in Alaska, but it is somewhat surprising that he doesn’t understand that increased costs for business are either deducted from wages or passed on to consumers. Lowering taxes for some won’t lessen the overall need for revenue, and as Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan noted, raising the taxes on rental property owners is going to increase rents in a city that already has steep costs and a 2 percent vacancy rate. The best way to lower the cost of living for Alaskans is to reduce energy costs, not through shifting tax burdens on to others. Against Prop 2: This measure would reestablish a coastal zone management program, and it has drawn fierce opposition from the oil and gas industry, miners, labor unions and the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, among others. Backers of the initiative have tried to cast this measure as a battle between Outside interests and Alaskans, but that’s hard to square with the opposition coming from local labor unions who depend on both the resource development sector and the capital budget funded by royalties for high-paying jobs. The Sea Party, which got the measure on the ballot, has also tried to portray the initiative as simply restoring coastal zone management that allowed for all the oil, gas and mining projects developments throughout the state over the past 30 years. However, the 15-page initiative is far from equivalent to the previous program that lapsed on June 30, 2011, when the state Senate couldn’t come up with a coastal management reauthorization and wouldn’t even take a vote or offer amendments on a measure that passed the House by a 40-0 vote. If the Sea Party had simply wanted to restore the previous program, the ballot measure would have been one sentence long instead of 15 pages. A measure to restore the program that expired would have been something we could support, but Prop 2 is a disaster in the making. The legislature needs to come up with a coastal zone management program, that much is clear. While we appreciate the sentiment of citizens attempting to do the work the Senate failed to do, Prop 2 is not the solution. For Liz Vazquez in District J: We’ll save the rest of our candidate endorsements for the November election, but we didn’t want to let the primary pass without showing some support for the candidacy of Liz Vazquez in Senate District J for West Anchorage. Vazquez is facing Bob Bell in the Republican primary, with the winner to face incumbent Sen. Hollis French. It’s nothing against Bell — although we have no doubt the abrasive French would make an issue of Bell’s connection to disgraced and convicted former Habitat Division head Cory Rossi over what the Alaska Dispatch reported was an attempt at an illegal musk ox hunt in Nome while Bell was a member of the state Board of Game. No, we are for Vazquez because she is exactly the kind of person we always wish would get into politics but all too seldom do. The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, not only was she the first in her family to graduate high school, she went on to earn a law degree and two master’s degrees. (She’s also likely the first Alaskan candidate to conduct a door-to-door campaign on a Segway.) Vazquez is a former prosecutor, assistant state Attorney General, administrative law judge, and attorney for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. She’ll hardly be a shrinking violet in a Senate currently distinguished by the go-along, get-along gang. Unlike French, who seems to believe oil producers are the enemy, Vazquez sees them — correctly — as partners. If the citizens of West Anchorage want someone who can be both a productive legislator while not rolling over for the oil industry, we think they’d be wise to send Vazquez on from the Aug. 28 primary and defeat French in November.

Editorial: Attacks on 'Outside' companies wrong, undemocratic

Here we go again. An initiative governing resource development is on the Aug. 28 primary ballot and it was only a matter of time before the backers of Proposition 2 to reinstate a coastal zone management program played the “Outsider” card. After finance disclosures were filed with the state for June and July, the Alaska Sea Party put out a press release decrying the fact the group has been outraised 10-1 by their opponents who were characterized as “foreign” and “Outside” companies. Notably, while accusing these companies of a nefarious scheme to buy an election and silence Alaskans, the Sea Party did not attempt to refute the main argument against Prop 2 — that it will inject a tremendous amount of new uncertainties into a permitting process already fraught with them. Those favoring Prop 2 also continue to imply that they are simply restoring the previous coastal zone management program when that is hardly the case. Instead, the only counter to the Vote No on 2 group by the Sea Party appears to be that the their position is illegitimate because of the location of their company headquarters. These attacks on “foreign” or “Outside” companies participating in the political process in a state where they have invested billions of dollars and employ tens of thousands of Alaskans aren’t just wrong. They are undemocratic, and, in the end, stunningly hypocritical. We’ve seen this argument about “foreigners” deployed repeatedly against the developers of the proposed Pebble mine project, Anglo American of London and Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver. The constant use of “foreign” as a pejorative to cast these companies in an unfavorable light is farcical while bordering on xenophobic. No one believes the opposition to Pebble would somehow melt away or diminish if Anglo American and Northern Dynasty were headquartered in Alaska. We’re not surprised to see this volley fired against the opponents of Prop 2. The Sea Party has only raised about $63,000, but at least a third of that came in two donations from opponents of the Pebble mine. While the anti-Pebble forces have no problem with a consortium of Japanese-owned fish processors coming out against the project, we are supposed to believe there is something wrong with a Japanese mining company, Pogo owner Sumitomo, contributing to the “Vote No on 2” effort. Our courts, our airwaves and our ballot boxes are open to all sides and viewpoints. Yet the Prop 2 and the anti-Pebble forces act like these venues should only be available to those they agree with. Such double standards are unfortunately ubiquitous in Alaska. When Lake and Peninsula Borough passed a residency requirement stricter than state standards and rejected some ballots in the 2010 and 2011 elections, a lawsuit was filed and the ordinance was overturned to great cheers from the anti-Pebble forces. Yet when the Pebble Partnership uses the courts to challenge an equally constitutionally dubious Lake and Pen ordinance that would supersede the state role in permitting, the same folks cry foul. Similarly, environmental groups will sue, sue and sue again to contest permitting documents and decisions, yet they have rushed to embrace a scientifically indefensible assessment of mining impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed. Environmental activists would never stand for a document as incomplete as the EPA assessment to be used to allow resource development, yet they have no problem looking the other way in this case because they think it can help them short-circuit the permitting process to shut Pebble down. In December 2010, a coalition of fishing groups and the State of Alaska sued the federal government, and eventually won, on the grounds that National Marine Fisheries Service didn’t follow the law when it imposed wide-ranging cod and mackerel closures in the western Aleutians based on a theory the action would protect food sources for endangered Steller sea lions. A federal judge agreed with the state and fishermen, and noted the resulting economic harm in ordering NMFS to prepare a full environmental impact statement to support the action. Like free speech, the rule of law is not a one-way street, and stakeholders who decry the feds cutting corners when it works against them cannot credibly argue that the same government should do an end-run around the process when it suits them. There are plenty of arguments in favor of Prop 2 or against the Pebble mine, but the location of corporate headquarters is hardly one of them.

Editorial: Fuel regs show problem with Law of the Sea Treaty

On July 13, the State of Alaska filed a lawsuit to challenge new fuel requirements for ocean-going vessels plying the West Coast shipping lanes that took effect Aug. 1. The new standards imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency will raise the cost of everything that crosses our docks by at least 8 percent initially, and even further by 2015 when stricter standards kick in. The following Monday, July 16, Senate opponents to the Law of the Sea Treaty, or LOST, announced they had 34 signatures and enough to block ratification. Alaska’s delegation of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich were not among them, as both have been among the staunchest advocates for the Senate ratifying LOST. Murkowski has also been on the warpath against the EPA and its Administrator Lisa Jackson over the new fuel standards for Alaska, soliciting pictures from across the state that the unbelievable prices for basic goods such as milk and bread. While Murkowski, Begich and the state’s official positions are to support ratification of LOST, the manner in which these new fuel standards were established by the EPA is precisely the reason opposition hardened to the treaty and killed it once again. Back in 2009, the EPA under Jackson went to the International Maritime Organization and proposed a 200-mile Emission Control Area for the U.S. West Coast and the Great Lakes region. The ECA required the use of 1 percent sulfur fuel by 2012 and 0.1 percent by 2015. The reason the EPA was able to unilaterally impose this new ECA and fuel standards is because the U.S. is a signatory to the International Convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships, otherwise known as Marpol. The U.S. Senate ratified Annex VI to Marpol in 2008, which set a target fuel standard for 3.5 percent sulfur. The EPA went way beyond that, and way beyond any reason when it proposed the 200-mile area where the standard would apply. Then, to add a nice dose of favoritism to the injury, the EPA exempted more than two dozen old steamships in the Great Lakes region from complying with the new standards. That was done at the behest of Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat, and Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, coincidentally also a Democrat, who held up the EPA budget until Jackson gave them the Great Lakes exemption. Meanwhile, two old steamships used by Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc., the Western Venture and the Great Land, were rendered obsolete. TOTE had replaced the vessels with the mighty North Star and the Midnight Sun in 2003, but maintained the older ships for occasional military transport leasing and to have available in case another vessel was unavailable. Alaska Rep. Don Young was at the meeting with the EPA when Obey and Oberstar got their carve-outs, and his staff described the EPA attitude toward Alaska as “hostile” and “without an open or positive attitude” about the an Alaska exemption. So, the EPA claims this is a health benefit, then exempts the dirtiest ships in the heaviest populated areas while sticking it to Alaska. It’s a pretty short circle back to the Law of the Sea Treaty, and what’s wrong with it. Going beyond Marpol, the LOST requires signatory countries to control “land-based emissions” in addition to marine emissions. Hmmm, think the EPA under this administration wouldn’t have a field day with that provision? Proponents of LOST say it is needed to resolve territorial disputes among nations, such as China’s claims in the South China Sea or Russia’s advances into the Arctic. The problem with that is every Arctic nation and a host of others signed on to LOST have already declined to accept Article 298 of the treaty, which sets out the dispute arbitration process. Countries that have exempted themselves from dispute resolution regarding territorial claims, military matters and areas where the U.N. Security Council has jurisdiction include: Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Canada and China. So even if the U.S. ratified LOST, it can’t bring China or Russia to a dispute resolution because those nations have already declared they won’t accept the process. Besides, how is it that we can negotiate bilaterally with the Russians on nuclear weapons (badly, we may add, in the last round of START talks), but we need a U.N. arbiter to resolve territorial disputes? We’ve also been told LOST would be a boon to our offshore resource development, potentially adding an area the size of California to Alaska’s claims on the continental shelf. Considering that we don’t drill off the coast of California we have now, and all the trouble Shell has encountered trying to drill less than 100 miles offshore in the Arctic, it’s hard for us to imagine we’ll suddenly be developing resources past our exclusive economic zone any time soon by ratifying LOST. Another reason LOST drew opposition was the International Seabed Authority that would govern the development of any of those new claims beyond 200 miles. If you think Alaska’s oil tax regime is bad, the royalty scheme under LOST is essentially the ACES of the sea. According to the treaty, if a project earns a 20 percent or greater return on investment, a 70 percent royalty is kicked back to the International Seabed Authority headquartered in Jamaica. The ISA then uses this money to aid “geographically disadvantaged” countries that lack coastlines. Then there’s the idea that the U.S. somehow loses standing in the world compared to some of the worst human rights violators like China and Russia because we aren’t signed on to the treaty. Just like when we were kids, “everyone else is doing it,” is still the weakest argument of all.

Editorial: King closures expose double standard on bycatch

A fisheries management nightmare is playing out across the state caused by weak king salmon returns. The social and economic harms have yet to be calculated, although we have no doubt they are immense. Sport and subsistence king fisheries have been shut down. The East Side setnetters on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers have been shut down as sockeye surge past the beaches. Commercial chum salmon runs in Western Alaska have been restricted and new fishing gear required — all to avoid killing any king salmon. Meanwhile, the Gulf of Alaska pollock fleet is about to hit the waters with an allocation of 14,527 king salmon as bycatch for the C and D seasons that begin Aug. 25 and Oct. 1. The Bering Sea pollock fleet, with until Oct. 31 to catch the rest of a 1.2 million metric ton quota, still has an allocation of 17,741 king salmon remaining as of July 14 with one-third of the harvest to go. To be clear: this is not meant to be an attack on the pollock industry, which is without question an important part of the Alaska economy. The Journal is not anti-pollock or anti-trawl fleet. What we are is pro-accountability, and in this time of extreme conservation measures nobody can escape their fair share of it. We find no fault in the fleet advocacy on behalf of its membership, which has entirely legitimate arguments. For instance, ocean conditions could naturally have a greater effect on productivity than interceptions, and it is true that the amount of salmon bycatch is indeed miniscule compared to the 1.2 million metric ton quota of pollock in 2012. However, consider the “bycatch” of king salmon taken by the East Side setnetters (which really isn’t bycatch because it can be commercially sold while pollock fleet takes cannot). In 2011, this group of setnetters caught more than 2 million sockeye compared to 8,356 king salmon, or a rate of 0.4 percent. Like the Bering Sea pollock fleet, that’s a pretty low rate, but they are still shut down because indications are not even the minimum escapement will be met for kings on the Kenai. King salmon conservation measures cost the setnetters about 500,000 sockeye from their historical split in 2011, or about $4.5 million in dockside value, and the 2012 closure to the East Side setnetters could wind up costing this group $20 million. The potential harm often cited by the pollock fleet in fighting against bycatch controls certainly stands in stark contrast to the very real economic devastation now being felt by salmon fishermen of all types around the state. While we don’t quarrel with the pollock fleet’s right to advance its interests, with its advocacy comes the need to either downplay or deny any impacts of bycatch on Alaska salmon runs. Again, this is their job, but their interests don’t always coincide with the public interest. This is where the federal regulators on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council are supposed to play their role. While drawn by design from industry stakeholders, their job is not to vote a constituency, but to use their knowledge of the fishery to make an informed decision. It is not an unreasonable observation that the trawl fleets for both pollock and groundfish wield major — and often decisive — clout at the council when it comes to management of salmon, halibut and tanner crab that are prohibited species catches for them. Nor is it unreasonable to note the glaring contradiction inherent in directed users being barred from even catching and releasing a single king salmon while a prohibited species user group catches them by the thousands. It may be true that the marine environment is a greater force than the pollock fleet in salmon abundance, but that only makes conservation of the kings that are out there more important. To argue that bycatch is not significant at a time of low productivity is to simultaneously ignore the disproportionate impact bycatch can have in such a period as well as the conservation burden now being borne by the direct users. The pollock fleet may argue that it isn’t practical or realistic to even consider shutting down their fishery as a conservation measure. A few months ago, the East Side setnetters would have probably said the same thing.

Editorial: Note to Politico: Fairbanks isn't 'nowhere'

The State of Alaska received welcome news at the end of June when Congress agreed on a two-year surface transportation bill that largely preserved annual federal funds for the Alaska Railroad Corp. Under the Senate version passed in March, the railroad was in danger of losing $30 million of the $36 million annual Federal Transit Administration funding it has received since 2006. The potential loss of funding put everything from hundreds of jobs, passenger service and the ability to repay $137 million in capital improvement bonds at risk. Well, Rep. Don Young was appointed to the conference committee and he won back nearly all of the funding cut, securing $31 million annually for the Alaska Railroad that will allow the company to continue capital projects, pay its debts and preserve passenger service. Apparently that didn’t sit too well with those ever-vigilant budget hawks at Politico, a Washington, D.C., news organization that started off as a relatively balanced outfit but is now indistinguishable from the rest of the left-leaning media who run interference for Democrats and President Barack Obama. In a July 10 piece headlined “Don Young’s Railroad to Nowhere,” Politico described the FTA funds as a “cash gusher” for the railroad and that Young pulled off a “trick” to preserve the money despite the House of Representatives ban on earmarks. This of course will come as news to the insulated cocoon of D.C. reporters, but Fairbanks isn’t nowhere. Denali National Park isn’t nowhere. Neither are Seward or Anchorage. It also may come as news to the crack Politico team that contrary to their reporting, the FTA funds are not dedicated to “mass transit” or “commuter” rail. The authorizing legislation requires an entity to be a “local government authority” — which the Alaska Railroad is — and that it offer “public transportation” — which it does. And in terms of bang for the buck, the Alaska Railroad delivers by supporting the state supply chain carrying jet fuel to our military bases and international airport, and transporting coal exports that reduce our trade deficit. The railroad is vital to deploy our military, and while the Politico hacks may scoff at the tourists who ride it, they represent hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors who come to this country to spend far more money than Congress just appropriated. Meanwhile, these same jokers at Politico reassure us that based on their review of $16 billion in Department of Energy loan guarantees that were part of the 2009 stimulus bill that didn’t stimulate anything but the national debt clock — “it’s too soon to judge the success or failure of most of the 26 projects that received aid.” That’s some hard-hitting stuff right there. That information came in an article reporting on Abound Solar, which went bankrupt last month after receiving a $70 million loan guarantee from DOE. This follows on the collapse of Solyndra, Obama’s poster child for green energy loans — coincidentally owned by Obama bundler George Kaiser — after it received $535 million in DOE loan guarantees. Then there’s Fisker, which has received $193 million from DOE to build a hybrid sports car. The company has laid off 100 workers around the country in an effort to get more of that sweet, sweet DOE cash because so far it has missed all its sales and development milestones. When Consumer Reports tried to evaluate the Fisker Karma (a deliciously ironic name, no?), the car wouldn’t start. So while it’s “too soon to judge” a DOE program that blew $800 million tax dollars on just three companies, Politico turns its fire on Young and the Alaska Railroad to make a cheap headline out of easy targets. Nevermind you could run the Alaska Railroad for 25 years with the amount of money Obama’s DOE has blown on three companies in less than two. Thanks to Young, the Alaska Railroad will still be here in 25 years. Solyndra won’t be, even though we’ll probably still be paying interest on the debt that funded this and every other “green” fiasco funded by the current administration. The only thing going nowhere is Politico’s credibility.

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