Alaska News Nightly: December 23, 2010

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Obama Administration Steps Up Efforts to Protect Public Lands
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Thursday, the Obama administration stepped up its efforts to protect public lands.  The Bureau of Land Management, which manages about 40 million acres in Alaska, will look at those lands for wilderness value.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a news conference at an outdoor equipment store in Denver that he was rescinding a 2003 order by his predecessor, Gale Norton, that stopped the BLM from considering any more wilderness without action from Congress.

Salazar said he’s not trying to take any power away from Congress, but federal land managers need to have the ability to manage what he is referring to as “wild lands,” which are valued by outdoors enthusiasts, tourists, photographers and others.

Secretary Norton’s “no more wilderness” order was issued to settle a lawsuit by Utah’s then-Governor, Mike Leavitt.

It’s not yet clear if Utah or any other state will try to revive the lawsuit.

Salazar’s order allows BLM to consider “wild land” management after going through a public process of land designation.  The agency manages 264 million acres nationwide.   One of the biggest pieces of BLM land in Alaska is the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, where the oil and gas industry holds a number of leases, and at least one well complex is already sending oil into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.   Salazar says there does not have to be a conflict there.

Salazar said the NPRA would be reviewed for wilderness values just like any other BLM land.

BLM lands in Alaska include a lot of mining claims, the Denali Highway, the Iditarod Trail and many other areas.

Miller to Make Decision Monday
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage and Associated Press
Although he was not ready to respond immediately after the Supreme court ruled against  him yesterday, Joe Miller today released a statement saying he would decide on Monday whether or not to pursue continued legal action in his challenge of the general election outcome for US Senate.

Monday’s the deadline he faces for making any case in federal court.

Miller said all options are being weighed. Those include pursuing constitutional claims in federal court or conceding.

The state plans to ask a federal judge to lift a stay and allow it to certify Murkowski the winner.

Looking Back on Lame Duck Swing Votes
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
As Congress travels home for the holidays, the pundits in Washington are analyzing the last few weeks of the Lame Duck session.  And the name of one of Alaska’s Republicans is surfacing as a person to watch: Lisa Murkowski.  Her recent swing votes in the Senate helped President Obama and Democrats win some of their big priorities.  But Murkowski says don’t read too much into it.

State Steps Up Fairbanks Air Quality Advisories, Enabling Enforcement
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The State has taken a step to enable enforcement of smoke regulations in Fairbanks.  The Department of Environmental Conservation has begun issuing air quality advisories on days when fine particulate pollution levels exceed federal standards.  The Borough monitors local air quality and issues its own advisories, but its power to regulate use of home heating appliances such as wood stoves, was eliminated by voters last fall.  DEC acting Air Quality Division Director Alice Edwards says that’s forced the state to step up its role.

Edwards says a state regulation limits dense smoke emissions when air quality is poor.

Edwards says if the opacity regulation is violated the state can take steps beginning with making polluters aware of the problem.  She says the state is following up with some polluters, including around the Wood River School, where there have been numerous air quality complaints.  She says there’s a process for clamping down on people who are unresponsive to requests to curb emissions.

Edwards says the enforcement process is slow, and that the goal is primarily to tackle the smoke problem with a broader approach.  The borough is already running a successful old stove and boiler removal, repair or replacement program.  Edwards says state and local government also plan to broaden the air quality focus to clamp down on other sources like motor vehicles and power plants.  The Environmental Protection Agency requires a Fairbanks fine particulate pollution compliance plan by December 2012.

Truancy Drawing More Attention in Remote School District
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
School attendance is a crucial element for student success. More attention has been going to students who continue to miss school at one of the state’s most remote school districts, the Lower Kuskokwim School District.

State’s Travel Ads Take on New Shape
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Alaska is boasting a new look! Well, not exactly the state itself, but rather it’s the commercials designed to lure Outside visitors north to enjoy our spectacular scenery and spend money in our businesses.

Snowmachiner Still Missing on Seward Peninsula
Associated Press
A search from the air and on the ground has failed to find a snowmachiner missing since last weekend on the Seward Peninsula.

Alaska State Troopers say 22-year-old Kenneth Lee of Teller, left Brevig Mission and didn’t make it to Teller, which is about five miles across Port Clarence.

44-year-old Barbara Scholten died in the same area last month after the snowmachine She was a passenger on, went through the ice.

Fairbanks Man Using Weapons Misconduct Case to Challenge Court System
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The leader of the Alaska Peace Makers Militia will represent himself in court. At a hearing Tuesday, a state judge ruled Schaefer Cox of Fairbanks can serve as his own attorney in a weapons misconduct case.  Cox, who started the “2nd Amendment Task Force” and has run for state legislature, is accused of failing to immediately notify police he was carrying a gun during a confrontation with officers earlier this year.  He contests the charge, but is also trying to use the case to challenge the legality of Alaska’s court system, and says he needs to represent himself to do that.

Fairbanks District Attorney Mike Grey would not go on tape, but says the defense Cox is making has been heard and rejected many times in courts around the country.  This isn’t Cox’s first time in court. He pleaded guilty in a domestic violence case earlier this year.  He says he didn’t challenge the court’s jurisdiction then because he was threatened with having his child taken away by the state, and because he didn’t have the information he has now about the illegal nature of the court.

Hoonah Elders Get Early Christmas Present
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
About 25 elders in Hoonah got an early Christmas present from Sealaska Corporation Wednesday when free firewood was delivered to their doorstep.