Alaska News Nightly: January 30, 2008

Tonight in Alaska news… Don Young begins to raise money for legal defenses while the U.S. Senate investigates whether Bush administration officials are defending oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea against “threatened” polar bears. Meanwhile, liquified natural gas (LNG) proponents appeal the Palin administration’s AGIA decision to bypass an all-Alaska gasline plan. Plus, kidney transplants and the Constitutional Budget Reserve are the subject of bills and debate in the Alaska Legislature. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Don Young opens legal defense fund; protects campaign funds
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, DC
Congressman Don Young has setup a legal defense fund. The fund will help him cover rising legal costs that stem from federal investigations into allegations about illegal fundraising and corruption — and it should free up campaign funds that so far have been tapped to pay for lawyers.

Is ‘threatened’ status of polar bears being held up for Chukchi oil & gas leases?
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, DC
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall was back before another congressional panel today answering questions about why a decision on whether to give polar bears a “threatened species” listing has been delayed.

Yukon-Kuskokwim school district and teachers at odds over labor deal
Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena
A labor dispute is brewing in the Yukon-Koyukuk School District, after the School Board rejected a 3-year labor agreement with teachers last week. The rural school district includes 9 schools scattered across the Interior, only one of which is on the road system. At the heart of the dispute is the question of how to reward teachers who choose to stay in a district that is burdened by a high rate of teacher turnover each year. The teachers union also accuses the administration of violating the rules of labor negotiations.

Gasline Port Authority appeals AGIA decision; denied
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The Alaska Gasline Port Authority has been rejected a second time by the Palin Administration. The administration selected TransCanada as its potential developer of the natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Continental U.S. The Port Authority appealed that decision and today Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin and Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin said the previous decision stands.

Senate proposing easier access to Budget Reserve cash
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The state Senate today took up a bill that would make major changes to the Legislature’s savings account — the Constitutional Budget Reserve. The Reserve began in 1990 and collected all settlements or litigation relating to back taxes on oil and mineral production, leases and royalties. The reserve can be spent if three-fourths of the House and Senate agree to withdrawing money to cover appropriations. Currently the Reserve has $3 billion available and another $5 billion spent over the years is due to be repaid.

Kidney transplant driving Legislative ethics rule changes
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The House Judiciary Committee said today it doesn’t need a hearing on a bill that would change the state’s ethics laws to increase the allowable amount for what is called a “compassionate gift.” The bill is on a very fast track to allow Nome representative Richard Foster to receive a needed kidney transplant. The ethics committee ruled the transplant would exceed the current $250 gift limit.

Sitka’s winter drought forces utility to fire up diesel generators
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
Faced with increased power demand and lower-than-average rainfall this winter, the Sitka electric department is playing the odds, running diesel generators to supplement the city’s two hydro projects. The strategy — which costs roughly $7,000 per day in fuel — is intended to conserve water behind the dams for Sitka’s more typical dry season in March and April.

Juneau’s Johnson Youth Center takes national safety award
John Ryan, KTOO – Juneau
Juneau’s youth detention center is an unusually safe place to work. In fact, the Johnson Youth Center has received a federal award for its efforts to reduce workplace accidents. Only two state facilities have received the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) award to date: the Juneau Pioneer Home and Juneau’s detention and treatment center for youth.