Alaska News Nightly: August 20, 2010

Individual news stories are posted in the Alaska News category and you can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio (MP3)

Territorial Guard Soldier Laid to Rest
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
A family in Napaskiak, near Bethel, is celebrating the return of Nick Steven. His remains will be put to rest this weekend, decades after he was lost to them as a soldier in the Alaska Territorial Guard in World War II.

Begich Seeks Arctic Opinion on Energy Development
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
As the nation’s only Arctic state, Alaska is bound to play a key role in the country’s future commercial and industrial activities.  Senator Mark Begich traveled to Barrow this week to hear from local residents and invited guests about their perspectives on proposed energy development amid a rapidly changing environment.

No Child Sexual Abuse Charges to be Pursued in Bill Allen Case
Associated Press
The Department of Justice has decided not to pursue charges against former VECO Chairman Bill Allen in a child sexual abuse investigation.

Anchorage Police Lt. Dave Parker confirmed Friday that federal authorities have declined to prosecute. Allen is serving time in a federal prison after pleading guilty to bribing Alaska lawmakers.

His conduct with at least two underage girls had been the subject of a police investigation since 2008. That inquiry developed more urgency in spring 2009 when a prosecutor with the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section joined local detectives in the case.

Murkowski, Miller Debate Each Other for First Time in RUNNING
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Thursday night, Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, incumbent Lisa Murkowski and challenger Joe Miller squared off over issues for the first time.

Miller asked Murkowski if she’d ever voted for a bill or resolution that was unconstitutional. When Murkowski answered no, Miller brought up the stem cell bill, as something the constitution does not back

Murkowski countered that there were many things the constitution doesn’t spell out:

Joe Miller said the constitutional framers intended to limit central government and wanted a federalist system that gives power to the states.

Murkowski Defends Against Miller’s Accusations
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senator Lisa Murkowski is the only woman on the US Senate’s Republican leadership team, and after only eight years in office is Alaska’s “senior senator.”  But her challenger Joe Miller says she’s just not conservative enough.  Miller has the backing of the national, California-based group the Tea Party Express, which says it has poured $400,000 into his campaign.

Miller calls himself a “constitutional conservative,” and wants to shut down the Department of Education and phase out Social Security and Medicare.

He’s also against earmarks.

But Senator Murkowski says earmarks make up less than one percent of the federal budget, and that criticizing them can be a red herring.

Murkowski defends her “conservative” credentials by saying she wants to reduce the debt, revamp the health care overhaul, and protect gun rights.  In the past year she’s fought the Obama Administration’s plan to regulate pollution from power plants and factories, and voted against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. She rebukes Miller’s accusation that she’s veered to the right because of his challenge.  But Murkowski says even as she stands with Republicans, she thinks that to be successful in Washington you have to work with others, like she did on a bipartisan Energy Bill last year.

Democrats Vie for Opportunity in General US Senate Election
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Three candidates are vying to win the Democratic primary this year for the US Senate. Sitka mayor Scott McAdams has the most organized campaign. He says his local government experience would serve Alaskans well.

McAdams says at the local government level, things get done. But that’s not how he sees things working in Congress.

McAdams is anticipating a win in Tuesday’s primary. He is already planning his campaign to defeat either Joe Miller or incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the general election. He says he’s raised about $25,000 for that effort, a fraction of the funds Murkowski has on hand.

Frank Vondersaar is challenging McAdams in the Democratic primary. He says he would like to reign in corruption in Washington and make other big changes.

Vondersaar lives in Homer and describes himself as a lawyer, engineer and part time thrift store worker. He has lived in Alaska for over 20 years. Vondersaar has been a candidate for US Senate several times and has also run for the US House. When asked why he keeps running, he says, “Hope springs eternal.”

A third primary candidate Jacob Seth Kern is on the ballot, but did not respond to interview requests in time for this story.

Voters will weigh in on Tuesday in the primary for the US Senate race.

Fairbanks Could Face Tougher Pollution Regulations
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Fairbanks could soon face tougher fine particulate pollution regulations.  The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing its standards for the tiny particles, called PM 2.5, produced by combustion.  Fairbanks began regularly violating the standard during the winter when cold air traps emissions at ground level, after the E.P.A. substantially tightened it in 2005 due to increased concerns about health impacts. Borough transportation Director Glenn Miller says permissible levels could be ratcheted down again by the end of this year.

As a federally designated non-attainment area for fine particulates, Fairbanks is required to work with the state to develop a plan to get into compliance.  The plan due in December 2012 has to include an inventory of emissions sources, environmental models, and pollution control measures. Miller says investigations into several potential sources, including local power plants continues, but wood burning for heating is the current focus.

In June, the borough assembly approved a wood stove and boiler removal and replacement program.  It offers participants cash payments and tax breaks to fix, get rid of, or swap out old units for newer cleaner burning E.P. A. approved models.  Miller says there’s already been a good response to the grant-funded program.

Miller says 82 people have applied, most wanting to replace old stoves.   A wood stove industry trade group reports that similar programs in Lower 48 cities with fine particulate pollution problems were able to halve emissions through elimination of older stoves.  He says local surveys indicate there are about 3,000 such units in Fairbanks that need to be removed or replaced at a cost of $7-8 million.  If the current pilot program is successful it could leverage additional state and federal grants to continue it. Miler stresses that a public education campaign on how to operate stoves cleanly, and the importance of burning dry wood, is also important.

Gubernatorial Candidates Focus on Oil and Gas Topics
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The Republican candidates for governor in next week’s primary election have focused on the future of the oil and gas industry as the defining subject for voters to consider.  And while other subjects have begun to draw attention, there is little difference in what they are presenting on most of those issues.

Alaska Eggs Not Tainted
Associated Press
State officials on Friday reversed course, and said it hasn’t found any eggs sold in Alaska linked to the Wright County Egg national recall.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said its Thursday release “associating Olympia Valley eggs with the Wright County Egg recall was incorrect.” That was based on misinformation given by a retailer.

State health officials on Thursday confirmed at least two cases of salmonella matching the strain tied to recalled eggs.

Industrial Solvent Reaches Some North Pole Garden Plants
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
State tests show some North Pole garden plants watered from sulfolane-tainted wells carry the industrial solvent. State Division of Public Health Environmental Toxicologist Lori Verbruggee says initial tests on early harvest produce show the leafy parts of plants are more susceptible.

Verbruggee says that while rhubarb leaves contained sulfolane, the stems, the part people eat, did not.

Verbruggee says the levels of sulfolane detected in the leaf samples tested were measurable but   below a level of health concern.  She says the determination is based on toxicity levels determined for sulfolane in drinking water.

Verbruggee says tests indicate that sulfolane does not accumulate in the body, but adds that it’s possible that the solvent, like some other chemicals, could trigger effects that do not manifest until years later.  She says repeated exposure to sulfolane over the long term could also cause health problems.   The state plans additional sulfolane surveillance tests on mid and late season produce, as well as a longer term controlled greenhouse study.  Flint Hills Refinery is paying for the research.  Wells in an area of North Pole are contaminated from historic sulfolane spills at the refinery.  Flint Hills has been providing alternate supplies of drinking water to affected residents since the well issue was discovered last year.