Alaska News Nightly: June 3, 2011

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Fuel Prices to Rise in Bethel

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

While fuel prices have gone up for months on the road system, prices in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta have been frozen since last September when the last barge made it in. But as of today, prices will jump in Bethel, the region’s hub. Unleaded fuel will climb 52 cents a gallon to $5.97. And heating fuel will be $6.04 a gallon, raising 72 cents.

Lawmakers Scramble as Coastal Management Program Begins Shutdown

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The shutdown of Alaska’s Coastal Management Program is underway, even as some lawmakers continue to work behind the scenes to save it.

Employees with the Division of Coastal and Ocean Management received layoff notices on Thursday. That followed letters on Tuesday to coastal districts and state agencies that participate in the program, informing them their federal grants had been terminated.

Washington DC Turns Attention to Alaska’s Other Minerals

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska is often mentioned as rich in oil and gas and deposits of gold, but today in Washington, the state’s potential for mining of rare earth elements took center stage.  The valuable minerals are used in all sorts of industries, and Congress wants the U.S. to start producing more.

Iditarod Veteran Missing in Talkeetna

Sue Deyoe, KTNA – Talkeetna

More than 3 dozen people gathered near the Talkeetna fire station this afternoon to meet with a state trooper and discuss the disappearance of their friend and neighbor, well-known musher Melanie Gould, who was last seen in Talkeetna at her job Monday evening.

Memorial in Fairbanks for Fort Wainwright Soldiers

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Three Ft. Wainwright-based soldiers, killed by roadside bomb in Afghanistan last month, were memorialized at an on-post ceremony yesterday.

Anniversary of Dutch Harbor Bombing by Japan

Jacob Resneck, KUCB – Unalaska

Friday, June 3 marks the 69th anniversary of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s bombing of Dutch Harbor. The two-day bombing raid claimed the lives of 78 Americans and 10 Japanese and began the Second World War’s bloody 14-month Aleutian Islands Campaign.

New Bill Would Force EPA to Move on Off-Shore Drilling Permits

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

A U.S. House Committee passed legislation on Thursday, June 2, that would speed up the permitting process for Shell Oil to drill off Alaska’s coast.  The bill pushed by Republicans gained the support of five Democrats and passed the Energy and Commerce Committee 34 to 14.  It would force the Environmental Protection Agency to move on permits, and would loosen air pollution standards for offshore drilling projects.

The bill also blocks challenges of some air permits to the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board.

Shell says its plans for drilling offshore in the Arctic have been hamstrung by the permitting process, but federal officials say it’s up to the company to comply with regulations before it gets the green light.

That same day at a House subcommittee hearing, a Republican Congressman from Ohio, Representative Bill Johnson, accused the Obama Administration of being incompetent. He asked Shell executive vice president David Lawrence why he thinks permits have had delays.  Lawrence said it’s a problem of coordination – and money.

Representative Johnson disagreed that permitting departments need more funding or staff, and repeated his claim that it’s intentional.  But the top Democrat on the Energy Committee, Representative Henry Waxman, says Shell’s permits have NOT been “ping ponged” back and forth.  He says they’ve been efficiently issued, but that Shell keeps changing its project plans, causing the delays.

Despite Democratic objections, the bill pushing for a faster permitting process off Alaska’s coast will now go to the House floor, where it’s likely to pass.  It’s part of a series of bills Republicans are pushing to limit the EPA and Obama Administration’s authority in permitting.

Fairbanks Wildfire Still Rages

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

Forest fire teams continue to battle a wildfire 15 miles northwest of Fairbanks while bracing for additional blazes in the dry Alaska interior. The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center says the Hastings Fire has burned more than 5,800 acres between the Chatanika River and Washington Creek west of the Elliott Highway.

The fire is a threat to cabins along the Chatanika. Firefighters are working to keep the fire on the river’s north side. They have also begun building a line between the fire and the Hayes Subdivision five miles to the east.

The coordination center says 363 firefighters are working to contain the fire. The Hastings Fire is one of 47 burning in the state.

The wildfire at the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve is slowing, but high winds in the forecast for this evening could change that.