Alaska News Nightly: March 4, 2011

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Officials Worried About TransCanada Missing October 2012 Proposal Deadline
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Alaska lawmakers say Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officials are worried TransCanada might miss an October 2012 deadline to submit an application to build a natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48.

TransCanada, which is working with Exxon, was granted a state license and the promise of $500 million in state subsidies under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. The state anticipates paying TransCanada more than $100 million by July.

Legislators in Washington DC this week for the annual Energy Council Conference discussed the project with the head of FERC. Fairbanks Senator Joe Paskvan says he’s concerned about delays in some application pre-filings.

But Larry Persily, federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, says the most important thing for TransCanada is submitting the application by October 2012. Even if it isn’t complete by then, Persily says the project will still be fine. FERC will have a year to do a draft environmental impact statement for the project once the completed application is submitted.

State House Speaker Mike Chenault of Nikiski introduced legislation this session to scrap AGIA on the presumption that TransCanada hasn’t been able to attract enough interest in the project from oil and gas shippers. So far the company has not released details of its open season process last year, when it sought shipping commitments. Senate Finance Committee Co-Chair Bert Stedman of Sitka says he’d rather give the process another year.

Nearly half of the legislature is in Washington this week for the Energy Council, which brings together lawmakers from energy producing states. Some critics say the annual trip is a waste of money and prevents the legislature from working on important issues during the session. Alaska will host an Energy Council conference in September in Anchorage.

Peterson, Gara Introduce ‘Truth in Alaska Oil Company Profits Act’
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
Two state lawmakers say the state should force major oil companies to declare their Alaska profits.

Anchorage Representatives Pete Peterson and Les Gara have authored the “Truth in Alaska Oil Company Profits Act.”  It’s aimed at Exxon-Mobil, the world’s largest and most profitable oil company.  Exxon is the only major oil company operating in the state which withholds the information.

Under federal law, companies must report profits made within the U.S.  But Alaska law uses a formula to estimate in-state profits for corporate income tax reporting, and those numbers are confidential.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requires reporting if enough profits come from a particular region.  That’s one reason ConocoPhillips’ Alaska profits are known.  British law requires BP to release its annual Alaska profits.

Gara says Exxon-Mobil is diversified enough that under federal law it doesn’t have to reveal Alaska profits.

The legislature is considering Governor Parnell’s proposal to give oil companies bigger tax credits.   Gara calls it the biggest tax rollback in state history.  At current prices of more than $100 a barrel, the state could lose an estimated $2 billion dollars a year in oil revenues.  Peterson says to maintain a fair balance between the industry’s and Alaska’s royalty share, the state needs a company’s profit information.

The legislation would require any company receiving more than $50 million in Alaska oil tax credits, or producing more than 75,000 barrels of oil per day, to make quarterly reports of its Alaska profits.

Governor Parnell says he hasn’t seen the legislation yet, but he says it could be a slippery slope.

The legislation will be assigned to committee on Monday.  The governor says he’ll withhold final judgment on the bill until he sees it.

Right now, Gara and Peterson, both Democrats, are the only sponsors of the legislation. But they believe Republican co-signers will be forthcoming.  Gara believes it would be hard for any legislator to say Exxon should be allowed to hide their Alaska profits.

Federal Regulation Lowers Permissible Amount of Benzene in Gasoline
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
For some time now, gasoline sold in Anchorage and Alaska has contained a higher benzene level than most of the United States.   But that situation changes in 2012 when new federal regulations take effect that lowers the permissible benzene content from about 5 percent to around 1 percent.   As a first step to measure the effectiveness of that change, Anchorage’s Department of Health and Human Services has just completed a year-long study of current outdoor and indoor benzene levels.

Fur Rondy 2011: CANstruction
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
It’s a Rondy event that draws engineers, architects, sculptors and others with an “uncanny” sense of art and design.    And for the past four years this competition has produced creations that wound up on hundreds of tables in homes across Anchorage, as well as South Central and rural Alaska.

Susannah Morgan is Executive Director of the Food Bank of Alaska.  The “event” is the Food Bank’s annual “Canstruction” contest at Anchorage’s University Mall.

The idea is to build the most striking structure or sculpture from cans and boxes of foods.  And because the goal is not only to pursue art, but collect food, the bigger, the better.

Morgan says this year’s competition attracted about 10 groups and a variety of subjects.

The canstructions undergo two judgments.   One is by a panel which includes a judge from the national canstruction contest who will see that the local winner advances to the national competition.  But there’s also the people’s choice.  That’s decided by the number of cans of food that are placed into barrels set by each exhibit.  Each item is one vote and and viewers can vote through Saturday.

And unlike other elections, Morgan says everyone is encouraged to vote as often as they like.

Musher Finds Success Creating ‘Team Williams’ Legacy
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
Only a handful of mushers from Western Alaska run the Iditarod. One of them—Mike Williams Jr. – is from the small Kuskokwim village of Akiak. He’s the son of Iditarod veteran Mike Williams Sr., and shares the same family kennel. Williams Jr. has found a lot of success creating the legacy known as “Team Williams.”  And as Angela Denning-Barnes reports, his training style is somewhat unconventional.

US Forest Service Chief Defends Timber Sales Plan
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service defended its plan Thursday to reduce the number of 10-year timber sales in Southeast Alaska.  Tom Tidwell appeared before the Senate Energy Committee to explain the President’s budget requests for next year.  He admitted to Senator Lisa Murkowski that if the goal is to sustain communities in Southeast, things must change.

Murkowski is upset because in 2008 the Forest Service promised to have four-decade-long timber sales in the Tongass National Forest, of up to 200 million board feet each.  But now instead it wants to convert two of those sales to what are called “stewardship” contracts, and only offer half the board feet in small parcels.  Murkowski asked Tidwell what happened to the commitment made by his agency.  The director says the goal is to make sure timber harvests go forward.

But Murkowski says the second largest remaining mill in Southeast just closed and now only has six employees, and the only large mill left is, in her words, desperately worried about its timber supply.

Senators voiced concerns at Thursday’s hearing about the Forest Service’s plan to consolidate some programs, and eliminate others, but Tidwell says much of that is only for accounting purposes.  Changes to the agency’s contributions to the Federal Subsistence Program, for example, won’t actually make a difference on the ground, only on the books, according to the Forest Service Chief.

UAF Making Facilities Available to Small Businesses Bringing Local Food to Market
Lorien Nettleton, KUAC – Fairbanks
The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service is making facilities available to small businesses interested in bringing local food to market.

Unique Prom Held in Anchorage
Joshua Tucker, APRN – Anchorage
Most prom queens are in their teens. But at a unique prom held last week in Anchorage, the crowned royalty were middle-aged. That’s because these women are convicted criminals. The prom was a chance for them to experience a piece of youth they missed. It was also a way to celebrate a new life after many years behind bars.

Legislation May Restore Felons’ Voting Rights Sooner
Joshua Tucker, APRN – Anchorage
Voting is another civic right that some felons would like to see restored to them sooner. Currently many do not have their right to vote restored until they complete their probation and parole, often many years after they are released from prison.

Currently 13 states allow all ex-offenders to vote as soon as they are released from prison. Anchorage Democrat Senator Bettye Davis has introduced legislation to restore their rights to vote, serve on a jury and run for office as soon as they are released. Davis hopes that if SB7 passes, those affected would feel more connected to their community.

This is the third time Davis has brought up the bill.  In the past it hasn’t made it out of the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Anchorage Republican Senator Cathy Giessel serves on the committee. She spoke in opposition to the bill at the last hearing on it.

The bill is up for debate again in the Senate’s State affairs Committee Tuesday.