Alaska News Nightly: November 18, 2011

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Despite Fading Expectations, Alaskans Urge Super Committee to ‘Go Big’

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Expectations are fading that the Congressional committee tasked with coming up with a budget deal will succeed, but Alaska’s Senators are still encouraging the Joint Selection Committee on Deficit Reduction to “go big” and get something accomplished.

The group of six Democrats and six Republicans appears to be an impasse over taxes and entitlement spending. They have just five more days to come up with a plan.

Alaska’s delegation has been watching from the sidelines like most other members of the House and Senate and Senator Lisa Murkowski has voiced frustration at not having the process open to all of Congress. Now the Republican is part of a group of 150 members urging the committee in its final days to “go big and go bold.”

“We are running out of time extraordinary fast. The committee has until just Monday to report something out in order to meet the deadline of the 23rd,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski says she’s heard rumblings that both sides are holding out for their partisan agendas but she warns that won’t accomplish anything.

“We cannot be defining the solutions on partisan lines right now. Otherwise we will not be able to get to a result that will address the problem,” she said.

Not much has been leaking out of the so-called “Super Committee’s” meetings, as members have mostly been staying mum about details and working behind closed doors. However in recent days Congressional leaders have thrown partisan jabs, blaming the other side for what may be a stalemate. But Democratic Senator Mark Begich hopes the committee can stay focused in the final days and ignore the partisan and lobbying pressure. He said he’s “always optimistic to the end, hopeful they come up with something significant enough and balanced and has revenues, cuts, and a balanced investment portfolio around energy, education and infrastructure.”

Begich says if nothing advances over this weekend, he’ll be, in his words, “less optimistic.”

If the Super Committee doesn’t come up with a plan by Wednesday to save at least $1.2 trillion over a decade, automatic spending cuts will kick in starting in 2013. Alaska’s delegation has warned those cuts could be devastating to areas like military programs and education.

ANWR Hearing Spurs Fiery Remarks

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

As Congress struggles to find ways to bring down the national debt, Republicans in the House are offering a plan:  increase oil and gas production to pay for repairs to America’s highways and jump-start the economy.  Part of that includes opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to development.  A House Committee held two hearings Friday in Washington on drilling in Alaska.  It was a familiar litany of arguments, but also had some fireworks.

Colorado Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn opened up Friday morning’s hearing on Republican oil and gas bills by saying this is a way to get people working.

“Americans are desperate for new jobs, and blue collar workers in our trade have been particularly hard-hit by the economic downturn.  Critics will say these bills are a give away to oil industry.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  These bills are designed to open lands to create opportunity,” Lamborn said.

A quartet of Republican bills includes one to open the Arctic Refuge, or ANWR, to drilling.  Money they generate would go toward the Highway Trust Fund to pay for America’s infrastructure projects.  But Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, a well-known opponent of Arctic drilling, says Republicans are over-selling their plan.

“The four bills we are considering today would only generate 1/15th of revenue we’d need to fund transportation projects for the next six years.  These bills would leave us 70 billion dollars short of funding our transportation projects over that time,” Markey said.

Markey says instead, support a plan by Democrats to ratchet-back the subsidies oil and gas companies get.  He says it would save $19 billion in 10 years.

The renewed push to drill in ANWR comes as Congress battles desperately over ways to save money or gain new revenues.  But even though the atmosphere may be new, the arguments are familiar.  At Friday afternoon’s hearing Congressman Don Young voiced the feelings of many.

“I will tell you, if you ever want to see an exercise in futility it’s this hearing.  That side’s made up its mind, this side has already made up its mind,” Young said.

Congressman Young has been fighting to open ANWR for decades, and doesn’t have patience for people who disagree with him.  From his seat on the House Natural Resources Committee dais, he often yells at witnesses with differing opinions, especially environmentalists.  But on Friday afternoon when he tried to chastise one witness, the witness fought back.  Young criticized the position of Douglas Brinkley, a well-known historian and professor at Rice University in Texas.  Brinkley is against drilling in the Arctic Refuge and wrote a book about the wilderness battles in Alaska.  When Young started to bash the position of drilling opponents, Brinkley cut him off.

Young: And the I call it garbage Dr. Rice… Brinkley: It’s Dr. Brinkley. Rice is a university. I know you went to college and didn’t graduate. Young: I’ll call you anything when you sit in that chair.  You just be quiet.  Brinkley: Why?  You don’t own me.  I pay your salary. I work for the private sector, you work for the taxpayer.”

Brinkley knocked the Congressman’s education while Young ordered him to be quiet.  Brinkley says he’s been camping in the Arctic Refuge, but Young mocked him for that and accused him of being elitist.

Young: Now I have been all over that area.  Brinkley: I know you have. Young: The Arctic plain is really nothing.  You say it’s the heart, it’s not the heart. Brinkley: I disagree with that.  Young: It’s part of the most deficit (sic) part of the area.  And what hurts me the most, you sit there in the Rice University, when the people support drilling for their good and the good of the nation, as a college professor and ivory tower.  You can go up there and camp and spend your time and I hope you spent a lot of money.  But the reality is this area should be drilled.  I’ve been fighting this battle for 39 years.”

The fighting on Friday though was in the House hearing room.  Douglas Brinkley criticized Young for not sitting through the whole hearing and showing up late.  Young was furious, saying he’d missed the start of the hearing because he had to vote on the floor.

Young often comes and goes at hearings, and he left before Friday afternoon’s was over.  Brinkley took aim again at his absence and disagreed with Young’s claim that the late former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens helped create ANWR for development.

“This was a misstatement made by the congressman who yet again left, doesn’t stay, blows smoke and leaves, but Ted Stevens had been for the creation of ANWR in 1960.  Ted Stevens was a lawyer for the creation of the Arctic, it’s only when oil was found there that he wanted to…,” Brinkley said.

The rest of Friday’s testimony was less dramatic, but very familiar.  Gwich’in Athabascan activist Sarah James of Arctic Village testified in favor of protecting the refuge, as did environmentalists from national organizations.  At the earlier, first hearing, pro-drilling witnesses included Tara Sweeney, a senior vice president at the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Mark Helmericks of Colville Village who wants more oil industry jobs.

Familiar arguments, Alaskan faces, and new heat over an old question:  what to do about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Fairbanks Putting Up To $25,000 Into Redistricting Case
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Fairbanks Borough assembly has voted to allocate up to $25,000 to support a lawsuit challenging the proposed Alaska redistricting plan.

The litigants are two local men who are suing to get the redistricting plan overturned.  The borough officially dropped out of the case last month, but the subsequent election of two new assembly members resulted in the idea of financially supporting the case.  The motion to spend the money passed 5-4. The case is set for trial in January.

DC Legislation May Alter Rural Law Enforcement, Justice

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

In Washington DC, lawmakers are taking a look at legislation that could alter the way law enforcement and justice are carried out in rural Alaska. Earlier this month Alaska Senator Mark Begich and other state leaders testified before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee at a hearing about The Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act of 2011.

Harsh Weather Puts Pressure on Anchorage Homeless Shelters

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage

The biting north winds that buffeted Anchorage earlier this week may have relented, but the pressure on the city’s overnight shelters has not.   That’s true even for Bean’s Cafe– primarily known for serving meals, but now functioning as an overflow shelter.

20 Kenai Peninsula Homes Still Without Power

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Some 20 homes are still without power on the Kenai Peninsula after a severe windstorm struck the area on Wednesday.   Homer Electric Association spokesman Joe Gallagher says most of the affected homes are in Nikiski.

Gallagher says early estimates put the cost of damage at about $1 million. He says this week’s storm came on the heels of a previous windstorm earlier in the month.  He says such strong winds are not common on the Peninsula, and two storms in a row with severe winds are rare.

AK: School Lunch

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

One of the challenges of living in remote Alaska is easy access to fresh food, like produce. But that’s not the case at the school in Tenakee Springs, where every day, the students get a meal that goes above and beyond the usual cafeteria fare. KCAW’s Ed Ronco had lunch with the 10 students at Tenakee School and has this story.

300 Villages: Nightmute

Today, we’re heading to the small village of Nightmute- on Nelson Island on the Bering Sea Coast and talking with Janet Lawrence.