Opinion

Editorial: State spending on energy should look to long term

The twists and turns of legislative attempts to address high energy costs probably left many Interior residents shaking their heads in wonder. On the one hand, the state Senate approved a bill to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on energy cost vouchers across the state, including in many areas where those costs are not particularly high. Yet the same body, at the time of this writing, had abandoned a proposal to spend $30 million on a natural gas storage system for Interior Alaska because of disagreement about how to deliver the money, whether through a direct appropriation or a tax measure that would amount to the same thing. And a much larger request of $100 million or more, which could have delivered dramatic and lasting energy savings across the region where it’s actually needed, also went nowhere. These choices are hard to fathom. Jump-starting a natural gas system would be a real step toward reducing the cost of heating and electricity in the Interior in the long term. The benefits would begin within a few years, and they would compound indefinitely as more people and businesses switched to gas. It would prepare the community for natural gas if a pipeline is ever built. The alternative — spending $330 million to $465 million on energy cost vouchers — is far less forward-thinking. The money would be gone in a year, with nothing done to address the long-term problem of high energy costs. Vouchers perversely reduce the incentive people have to conserve through steps such as switching to cheaper fuels, insulating their homes, using less electricity or taking other steps to address the problem individually. Vouchers also do nothing to reduce business costs, a serious problem illustrated by the recently announced shutdown of a crude refining unit at the Flint Hills refinery in North Pole. The voucher route is certainly easier. A statewide distribution has appeal for legislators everywhere, even in areas where heating costs are not stressing family and business budgets. Few of their constituents are going to complain too loudly about free money. Yet putting the state’s money into infrastructure is clearly the better choice, even for Alaska residents who wouldn’t seem to benefit directly — residents of Southcentral Alaska, for example. There is much talk of building either a small-scale or large-scale natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Southcentral.

OPINION: Young entrepreneurs dream big

All across the country, there are young men and women dreaming of opening their own businesses. Some are looking to start the next social media phenomenon, while others are focused on a business idea that fills an important niche on their campuses and in their communities. At the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), we know that young entrepreneurs are a valuable source of American innovation, which is why we launched our Young Entrepreneur Series (YES). Nationwide, 20 events were held, including one in Anchorage and one in Boise, Idaho. The SBA has the tools and resources to help these entrepreneurs succeed.  SBA appreciates that young entrepreneurs have different sorts of needs – they’re not just online and mobile; they’re starting all kinds of businesses while working out of cafes or even dorm rooms. We’ve launched a new set of online tools, with links to resources and online courses, geared specifically toward young entrepreneurs at www.sba.gov/content/young-entrepreneurs. And the SBA online community puts articles and advice from tens of thousands of small business owners and entrepreneurs online and available for perusing on our website. Join the community at www.sba.gov/community. SBA has many other tools available for young entrepreneurs and small businesses alike. We like to call these our “three C’s” and include capital, contracting and counseling. We provide a government guarantee on SBA loans that are given by lenders to increase access to capital. One great example is SBA’s microloan program. It provides low-cost, low-dollar loans to entrepreneurs and small business owners who require a small infusion of capital to start or expand their business. Opportunities available for small businesses in federal contracting include special efforts for women, veterans and disadvantaged businesses.  And we offer counseling and training to over a million aspiring entrepreneurs each year through our resource partner network including: SCORE, Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), Women Business Centers and Veterans Business Centers. As young entrepreneurs build their small businesses, SBA resource partners are there for them to provide mentoring, coaching and advice for every stage of their business, from starting up and writing a business plan, to accessing capital and expanding. SBA is dedicated to educating young entrepreneurs, connecting them to each other and other successful business owners and providing better access to tools, resources and information for starting, growing and managing a business. But no matter where you are, how old you are, or what your business is, SBA has resources to help you grow your business. You can get in touch with your local SBA district office in Anchorage or resource partner at www.sba.gov/direct.

EDITORIAL: Unfinished business: no justice in Sen. Ted Stevens case

Justice isn’t done in the federal case involving Alaska’s late Sen. Ted Stevens. The Justice Department has blamed the system’s corrupt practices for the injustice committed upon Sen. Ted Stevens. It held no one accountable. No one suffered sufficiently for the consequences of the department’s unethical behavior in the Stevens case. It appears that Justice and the people in its employ are above the law. Of all people, it should be those employed by Justice to uphold the law and to hold others publicly accountable who should be adamant about not only protecting the department’s credibility, but also the appearance of being credible. A jury convicted Sen. Stevens in October 2008 of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in home renovations and gifts. Stevens had sought — much to the surprise of Justice Department prosecutors — a quick trial in order to clear his name before that November’s election. (The timing of the charges so close to an upcoming election will prompt speculation about prosecutorial intent well into the future.) Months after the verdict, when evidence of prosecutorial misconduct emerged, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan threw out the conviction. Sen. Stevens, who routinely won re-election with 70 percent of Alaska’s vote, narrowly lost his 2008 bid for re-election despite heartfelt proclamations of his innocence. Alaskans find it difficult to respect a Justice Department that betrayed them, destroyed the late senator’s career and changed the makeup of the U.S. Senate. So do other Americans. Lives changed forever, and not for the better, because of Justice’s handling of the Stevens case. Alaskans want to see evidence that the Justice Department not only recognizes that, but makes amends. It needs to take action in order to begin to rebuild the trust and confidence of the public. To date Justice has admitted it made grievous errors in the prosecution of Sen. Stevens. It has announced its intention to institute a new training curriculum for federal prosecutors to ensure ethical behavior. In other words, Justice says it will do better in the future. Federal penitentiaries are filled with those who say that — if the government just would release them from their punishment. That doesn’t begin to rebuild a sense of trust. Judge Sullivan, who seems to understand the severity of Justice’s disgraceful behavior, ordered a special investigation of the Stevens prosecutorial team. Two and a half years later, the investigator, Washington, D.C., lawyer Henry F. Schuelke III, produced a scathing 514-page critique of that team. The report says that the prosecutors withheld pertinent evidence from the Stevens’ defense team and the jury that by law they were required to provide. The evidence would have proven Sen. Stevens’ testimony to be truthful. The prosecution team was “permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Sen. Stevens defense and his testimony,” the report concludes. The report also says that information withheld would have undermined the testimony of the prosecution’s star witness, Bill Allen. It noted that Allen, a convict on charges of bribery and conspiracy, provided information during the investigation. Allen’s initial story conflicted with his court testimony. But the prosecutors and FBI agent involved “forgot” about the earlier information. Schuelke pointed out that a “complete, simultaneous and long-term memory failure by the entire prosecution team” was “extraordinary” and “strains credulity.” The prosecution denied misconduct, or, in one case, denied intentional misconduct. All of them pointed at superiors for Justice’s failures. Schuelke wrote he couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt the prosecutors’ intent in the Stevens case. As a result, he didn’t recommend criminal charges. But, undoubtedly, Judge Sullivan is reviewing the findings, and he might well come to a different conclusion. The judge who oversees a case has a view unique to all others involved or following proceedings. The Justice Department still could act beyond new training procedures, holding the guilty parties accountable. Dismissal from Justice might be an outcome. Disbarment is a possibility. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced legislation, the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act, to create a nationwide standard for disclosure of evidence that demonstrates the innocence of a defendant to defense attorneys in federal cases. Currently, there are almost 100 varying standards throughout the nation. The act is a response to the Justice Department’s failures in the Stevens case. “What happened in the trial of Senator Stevens is unfortunately not an isolated incident, but most Americans do not have the wherewithal that he did to push back against prosecutorial misconduct,” says Murkowski. “While I do believe most federal prosecutors are adhering to the law, it’s clear the rules in place are not preventing ‘hide-the-ball’ prosecutions in cases across the country. There are a few prosecutors out there willing to put a finger on the scales of justice to get more convictions — and this bill seeks to stop that. Justice should be blind, not blindly ignored.” Alaskans are pleased to see the Stevens case might result in improvements in the law and in the training that prepares federal prosecutors. But still the case isn’t over until guilty parties in the Justice Department — whether the lawyers in the trenches or their superiors — suffer the full consequences of their action or inaction. Then, and only then, justice will be served and the Justice Department can rebuild its credibility with the public and within the Justice Department itself.

Bedrock of economy at risk without ACES fix

Alaska continues to face a critical challenge because of our state’s oil production tax structure. Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share is impeding our competitiveness and putting our future in jeopardy. Our economic bedrock is at stake because our oil and gas industry is being severely crippled. Our current tax structure greatly concerns me as the head of the largest Alaska-owned employer in the state. ASRC Energy Services is a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., and we employ thousands of Alaskans, many of whom are in their early and mid-20s and many of whom are Alaska Native. These young people are the future leaders of our companies and our state. They want to know that their company, one that is a service provider to the oil and gas industry, is going to remain in business. Lately, other states that welcome the oil industry are thriving while Alaska is failing to keep up. The professional jobs such as petroleum and drilling engineers, geologists, geophysicists, air permitters, field biologists, architects, cultural resource specialists, project managers, as well as high paying construction jobs for managers, builders, logistics managers, supply chain personnel, etc., and many businesses supporting the industry are headed south to more welcome climes. Our current tax system, that only took a few weeks to implement and seems next to impossible to change, is complex and uninviting to investment. With oil prices more than $120 a barrel, and rising, Alaska has an opportunity, and an obligation, to position ourselves now and also for a prosperous future—a future that ensures both young and old are set with a viable pipeline and revenue from an industry that is sustainable. In order to accomplish this, our state government and our legislators need to put their heads together and meaningfully change and improve the tax structure this session to welcome growth. As an Alaska-born Inupiaq, I resolve to give our youth a strong future. Together we must make our voices heard and get the message to our legislators who are making decisions on our behalf. Standing by and watching the pipeline, which employs thousands of Alaskans and supports countless businesses, continue to lag is unacceptable. Together, let’s send a clear message to Juneau—change ACES today. Taikuu Sunna Jeff Kinneeveauk is the President/CEO of ASRC Energy Services. AES is the largest Alaska-based oil and gas service company in the state, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

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