Alaska News Nightly: February 28, 2012

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Senators Strike Back At Parnell’s Oil Tax Bill Claims

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Members of Alaska’s bipartisan Senate Majority fired back at Governor Sean Parnell and his allies today (Tuesday) for calling the Senate’s proposed revision of the state’s oil tax structure an “increase.”

The governor’s office, state Chamber of Commerce, and Alaska Oil and Gas Association sent “Action Alert” emails to in-boxes across the state yesterday (Monday), urging Alaskans to testify at hearings this week on Senate Bill 192.

The bill is currently in the Senate Resources Committee. Chairman and Fairbanks Democrat Joe Paskvan says the Department of Revenue’s projections for the latest version of the bill show it resulting in a tax decrease of about $250-million a year for oil companies.

“To say that it is a tax increase, I think casts considerable doubt on the Department of Revenue forecasts, and undermines the validity of the Department of Revenue forecasts,” Paskvan said.

Parnell’s email says the bill also “does nothing to stem the decline of oil production.” The Governor says his competing tax cut proposal, House Bill 110, is the only measure to date to get promises of new investment from producers.

Again, Paskvan accused Parnell of playing fast and loose with the facts, noting production has been declining for more than two decades.

“Where the Governor says ‘for more than two years, I’ve heard Alaskans talk about declining oil throughput,’ I think it’s important for the public to consider, that as part of Alaska’s history, there’s been a decline in throughput since 1989,” said Paskvan.

Senate President Gary Stevens – a Kodiak Republican – says the goal of SB 192 has always been to cut taxes, and to suggest otherwise is “deceptive.”

“It never was an intention, no one’s intention in the Senate ever to have a tax increase. So I hope we can put that issue to bed,” Stevens said.

The Senate Resources Committee is scheduled to hear public comment on the bill tonight and tomorrow at 6 p.m. The committee also has nearly 20 amendments to consider before passing the measure on to the Finance Committee for more scrutiny.

Oil and gas taxes make up about 90 percent of the state’s annual revenue.

Senate Begins Hearings On Port And Harbor Expansions, Improvements

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The Senate today (Tuesday) began hearings on improvements and expansion of the ports and harbors around the state.

Bethel Jury Sides With School District Over Hooper Bay Fire

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

A Bethel jury sided with a regional school district in a five-year trial about the devastating Hooper Bay fire of 2006.

Alaska Republican Primary Approaching

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

By the time Alaska’s primary comes along, it’s usually clear who’s going to be the next presidential nominee. But this year, the race is close, and those Alaskan votes might hold more sway than usual.

Alaska is known for its fierce individualism, and apparently that carries over to caucus time for the Republicans. Instead of holding a traditional caucus with debates and a bunch of hoopla, Alaska Republicans get straight to the point with a ‘preference poll’ and ‘district conventions’.

It’s as simple as this: During a four-hour period on Super Tuesday, March 6, (4 to 8pm Alaska Standard Time) Alaska Republicans will turn out across the state to vote for their preferred candidate. Four candidates are on the ballot, Mitt Ronmey, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Only registered Republicans can vote.

The Alaska Division of Elections says, (as of 2/3/12) there are a little less than half a million voters in the state. A few more than 131,000 are registered as Republican voters in the state. Four years ago 13,703 people voted in the 2008 process.

With no presidential primary elections, Alaska is not considered a priority state for candidates, so there has been no in-person campaigning here so far. Romney sent his son to campaign for him in the Anchorage and Fairbanks areas in February. Romney has been endorsed by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, also a Republican.

Oil and gas take center stage in Alaska politics, and Alaskans will be watching for cues on how presidential candidates view their development of those resources.

Part One: Ocean Acidification

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

This summer scientists began to see acidic waters of the deep ocean moving ashore along the west coast. It’s still uncertain what this means for Alaska, where the ocean circulation is different.  But measurements made here so far are not encouraging.

In part two of his series on ocean acidification, Steve will report on why Alaska’s situation is different from the rest of the west coast.

Scientists Still Trying To Figure Out What Is Ailing Seals

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The diseased seals that began appearing along the North Slope last summer, and were found in the Bering Strait and YK Delta in October, have suffered from a range of symptoms. Scientists are still working to figure out what’s causing the illness.

NPS May Allow Limited Harvest Of Certain Items In Parks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The National Park Service is considering allowing subsistence harvest of plant and animal parts like birch bark and shed antlers.  It’s currently illegal to take such items from most parks.  In response to public requests, the Park Service has produced an environmental assessment on changing the policy. Denali Subsistence Resource Commission chair Ray Collins, of McGrath, says members who attended a meeting on the topic last week supported changing the regulations for qualified federal subsistence users.

Another option being reviewed would require permits to harvest things in the park.  Collins says each park’s subsistence resource commission is weighing in on the issue.  The policy change is being considered for 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act created parks, and additions to parks, like the preserve area of Denali.  The Park Service will select a preferred alternative from the EA, which is out for public review until April 7th.  Subsistence resource Commissions will then vote on the selected alternative.

Ft. Greely Officials Study Barley-Powered Electricity Proposal

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fort Greely officials are studying a proposal by a Delta Junction barley farmer to use the grain as a renewable energy source to generate electricity for the post. The project was one of several highlighted at a farm forum in Delta Junction over the weekend. Delta area farmers have long been trying to make a go of barley, and the latest proposal could give it a boost.

Conway Seavey Wins Junior Iditarod

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Seward’s Conway Seavey has won the Junior Iditarod. Seavey arrived at the last checkpoint in Willow in 15 hours 52 minutes after the race’s start on Saturday.  Eleven young mushers competed in this year’s race, and as KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer tells us, the competition is drawing increasing interest from both US coasts and the Midwest.

Competitors Run, Ski And Bike Their Way To McGrath, Nome

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Competitors in a human powered ultra-marathon on the Iditarod Trail have been slowed by heavy snow. A storm dumped more than two feet of snow just after the race started in Knik Sunday. The Iditarod Invitational is normally dominated by bikers, but runners have taken the early lead this year, as cyclists push their bikes through the deep snow. Clear and colder conditions are expected to firm up the trail.  The Iditarod Invitational takes racers 350 miles to McGrath, with some competitors continuing another 700 plus miles to Nome.  Thirty-nine people are in still in the race.  Eight have scratched.