Alaska News Nightly: September 22, 2009

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Railroad Lays Off 127 Workers
The Associated Press
The Alaska Railroad has laid off 127 employees. Railroad President Pat Gamble says this does not, by itself, solve the railroad’s financial problems. Officials had earlier estimated a 20 percent cut in its workforce. It has about 700 year-round employees and hires another 100 on a seasonal basis. The railroad is dealing with declining revenues because of a drop in tourism and reduced production at the Flint Hills petroleum refinery. More than a third of the railroad’s revenue comes from transporting products from the North Pole refinery.

Bethel Doctor Wins MacArthur Fellowship
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
A Bethel doctor has received a MacArthur Fellowship ‘Genius’ award. The award was announced on Tuesday.    The fellowship, worth $500,000, is going to Dr. Jill Seaman for her outstanding work as a doctor in Sudan, Africa, where she spends half her year.

Alaska Chamber Kicks Off Annual Conference
Casey Kelly, KBBI – Homer
The 50th annual Alaska State Chamber of Commerce Conference and Trade Show kicked off in Homer on Tuesday morning.

Anchorage Unions Say No to Reduced Hours
The Associated Press
Members of the Anchorage city employees’ union have rejected a proposal to have their work week shortened from 40 hours to 37.5 hours.

Fairbanks Gets Report on Pollution Challenges
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
There will be financial repercussions if Fairbanks delays dealing with its fine particulate pollution problem. That’s the finding of a report prepared by the North Star Borough’s Washington, D.C. legal counsel.  Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker says the downside of waiting to develop a plan for coming into compliance with federal Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards is significant.

Debate Heats Up on Murkowski’s Move to Restrict EPA on Greenhouse Gases
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Debate is heating up over an amendment Senator Murkowski (R-AK) is considering introducing this week on the Senate floor. It would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating some greenhouse gases.  The amendment, which Murkowski would tack on to a spending bill, would ban the EPA from regulating “stationary” places, like industrial plants or power plants – allowing it only to regulate moving sources like cars.  On Tuesday, the White House weighed in against Murkowski’s possible legislation. The President’s Energy Czar Carol Browner says the White House does not think it’s a “good idea.”  Browner says legislation should not come in the form of amendments on spending bills, because they can cause what she called “unintended consequences.”  Murkowski has not yet decided whether to introduce the amendment this week, but acknowledged on Tuesday that it’s drawn controversy.

Juneau Terminal Expansion Underway
Anne Sutton, KTOO – Juneau
A $20 million expansion and renovation of the Juneau International Airport terminal is underway. Another $40 million is being spent on the runway safety areas. The $20 million renovation includes a modern heating system that will replace oil fired boilers with clean energy. The electrically-powered ground source heat pump system taps geothermal energy, that is, energy extracted from heat stored in the earth.

Alaska To Feel Fewer Lingering Impacts of Recession
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Alaska will continue to feel fewer lingering impacts of the recession than much of the rest of the country. That’s the word from the state Department of Labor.

Japanese Airlines Experiences Financial Trouble
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Japanese air carrier that’s helped raise Fairbanks winter tourism profile, is in financial trouble. Japan Airlines, or JAL, which flies thousands of tourists to Fairbanks to see the aurora, announced major job cuts and plans to trim some trans-Pacific flights.

BP to Pay $1.7 Million for Oil Spill Containment Violations
The Associated Press
State environmental officials say BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. will pay more than $1.7 million for oil spill containment violations on Alaska’s North Slope.