Alaska News Nightly: February 3, 2011

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Shell Pushes Back Arctic Exploration Plans
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
The price of Royal Dutch Shell’s stock dropped today when the company reported fourth quarter earnings of 4.1 billion dollars. That was less than analysts expected. But for Alaska the big news was another announcement Shell made: It cancelled plans for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea this summer, citing regulatory delays.

Alaska Delegation Blames Obama for Shell’s Decision
APRN Staff
Alaska’s Congressional delegation has come out swinging against the Obama Administration at Shell’s news. Senator Mark Begich says the EPA should have been more aggressive in moving forward. Governor Sean Parnell also found fault with the EPA. At a press conference today, the word he came back to repeatedly to sum up his reaction was “unfathomable.”

But environmental groups welcomed the decision. Lois Epstein is Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society. She says the decision will give the federal government a chance to make sure the necessary environmental reviews are complete.

Epstein says the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico highlighted the importance of adequate environmental reviews.

Future of Subsidized Rural Flights in Doubt
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington
Senator John McCain is trying to kill the federal program that subsidizes flights in rural Alaska. The Arizona Republican is floating an amendment to eliminate the Essential Air Service program.

Gov. Parnell Looks to Bypass Health Care Act
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Governor Sean Parnell is looking at ways to bypass implementation of the federal health care act. He has requested advice from the state’s Attorney General on what steps he can take in response to a Florida federal court’s decision earlier this week that found the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Parnell says the decision in the litigation, to which Alaska was a party, requires him to follow his oath of office and support the Constitution.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Hollis French, a Democrat, disagrees, saying the governor is overreacting to a single ruling by a single federal district court judge. He says if the governor is opposed to the act itself, he has a duty to suggest alternatives to those aspects of the bill that people need.

Parnell is especially concerned with the “individual mandate” provision of the law that penalizes people who don’t buy insurance. He says he has not pursued that mandate and will not do so until he gets input from the attorney general.

Conservation Groups Oppose Sealaska Land Bill
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Among the most vocal critics of Sealaska’s land selection bill are conservation groups. They point to past logging practices by the regional Native corporation and others, which have removed large stands of trees from Southeast Alaska, and say the region can’t support much more in the future.

Most say they want Sealaska to get its land entitlement, but that it should be within the boundaries set by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Sealaska officials defend the corporation’s environmental record, and say the bill will allow them to be an even better steward of the forest.

Waterman Defense Begins
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The defense began arguing its case for Rachelle Waterman today.. The Craig woman, now 22, is accused of conspiring to kill her mother, Lauri Waterman in 2004. Waterman’s attorney Steven Wells, presented testimony via videoconference from Doctor Elizabeth Cauffman, a professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine. Cauffman, a noted researcher in the field of adolescent brain development, said that the portions of the brain’s frontal lobes, which govern impulse control and decision making, do not mature until about age 25, although a young person may be intellectually mature at age 16.

Cauffman also highlighted the importance of peer pressure in influencing adolescent risk taking behaviors. Cauffman said her research results show only average adolescent behaviors, and that she has neither met nor evaluated Rachelle Waterman. State prosecutors say Rachelle Waterman was aware of the plan to kidnap and murder her mother. Two boyfriends of the then sixteen year old Waterman, Jason Arrant and Brian Radel, actually carried out the plan and both have been convicted of murder.

Wells also called Craig high school teacher Don Pierce to the stand. Pierce related how his children had grown up with the Waterman children, saying that the two families had close ties. His wife was Lauri Waterman’s best friend. Pierce related how school officials asked him to drive a hysterical Rachelle Waterman home the morning that her mother’s dead body was positively identified.

Pierce related that Jason Arrant burst into the school to talk to Rachelle Waterman as Pierce was trying to take her home, and argued with him about who would best take care of her.

Pierce said Arrant then followed in his truck to the Waterman residence. Wells asked if Rachelle Waterman had indicated that she wanted to be with Arrant. No, Pierce said. He said Rachelle was in his truck, crying in the fetal position and saying Hail Marys.

The defense is trying to prove that Rachelle Waterman was manipulated by Jason Arrant, who was obsessed with her and saw Lauri Waterman as an obstacle to his relationship with her. Arrant was 24 at the time of the murder.

Defense attorney Wells will call on at least one more expert in the field of psychology on Friday.

Fairbanks Hosts Junior Curling Championships
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Curling usually doesn’t get much attention outside of the Olympics every 4 years, but the spotlight is on the sport this week in Fairbanks. The Fairbanks Curling Club is hosting the U.S. Junior National Championships for the first time, and as KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, the competition is intense.

Successful ‘Flying Wild’ Show Features Local Music
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
Two and a half million viewers have watched the first three episodes of Flying Wild Alaska, a new Discovery Channel show, every Friday night. The show features the Tweto family and their Era Alaska flying business. It also features songs by Bethel musician, Mike McIntyre.