Liz Ruskin, APRN - Washington DC
lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | About Liz
Alaska’s Bypass Mail system took some punches in Congress today. The chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee is renewing his attack on the postal system that delivers everything from lettuce to lumber in the Bush. Alaska’s congressional delegation told him, essentially, to butt out.
Alaska’s U.S. Senate race is shaping up to be a big-money affair. One hidden asset the campaigns deploy is the professional fundraiser. Sen. Mark Begich and the Republican front-runners hoping to unseat him all list professional fundraisers in their campaign finance reports, but they declined to talk about it. That’s not unusual, says fundraiser Kirsten Borman. She says there’s too much at stake for a campaign to pull back the curtain.
The EPA’s announcement today was directly targeted at the Pebble Mine. The developers of that project are understandably not pleased with what they say is a gross overreach of federal authority which should be concerning to all Alaskans.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 1976 law that governs fishing in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and other federal waters, is up for reauthorization in Congress. In past revisions, sectors of the Alaska industry squared off against each other. This time, the industry is mostly united in praising the law. But some of Alaska’s non-commercial fishermen say their needs aren’t getting enough attention.
About 30 opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine met in Washington today with White House and high-ranking EPA staff. They came armed with a new EPA study that found a mine of Pebble’s size would pose a significant risk to Bristol Bay and its valuable salmon fisheries. Now they’re asking the Environment agency to take the next step and kill the project. They didn’t get a definite answer.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that he’s creating a new position called Special Representative for the Arctic Region. It’s been referred to as an “Arctic Ambassador” in some reports, but it’s not exactly that, and the reaction of Alaska’s two U.S. senators has been mixed.
Alaska air taxi operators say the IRS has re-interpreted tax law for their industry, hitting some Bush pilots with tax bills of up to a million dollars. Alaska’s federal lawmakers are asking the revenue office to back off until they get some answers about what the rules are. The unexpected burden is driving some air carriers into debt or out of business entirely.
Alaska air taxi operators say the IRS has re-interpreted tax law for their industry, hitting some Bush pilots with tax bills of up to a million dollars. Alaska’s federal lawmakers are asking the revenue office to back off until they get some answers about what the rules are. In the meantime, the unexpected burden is driving some air carriers into debt, or out of business entirely.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he is creating a new Arctic position. In a letter to Sen. Mark Begich, Kerry says he will appoint a person of high stature to serve as “Special Representative for the Arctic Region” in order to elevate U.S. attention on the far North.
In Washington, D.C. the Senate Indian Affairs Committee yesterday reviewed a controversial report on Native American law-and-order that portrays the high rates of violence in rural Alaska, particularly against Native women and children, as a national disgrace. While Alaska’s senators agreed the gaps in law enforcement are deplorable, the long-standing dispute over tribal jurisdiction in the state hangs over the search for solutions.
The U.S. Senate is considering two international treaties that Sen. Lisa Murkowski says would help crack down on pirate fishing in the North Pacific. Murkowski today told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that illegal high seas fishing is an economic threat to the crab industry.
Congress is working this week to protect military pensions from inflation. The U.S. House voted today (Tuesday) to restore a cut to the cost-of-living-allowance for retirees, and the Senate last night (Monday) voted to move forward with a bill to do the same. The Senate bill was sponsored by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, and, on the procedural vote, it passed 94-0. Still, as APRN’s Liz Ruskin reports, the bill’s fate is uncertain.
The U.S. Postal Service has agreed to rollback its parcel post rate hike for shipments to rural Alaska, according to Senator Mark Begich. In a Senate committee hearing today he added an amendment to a postal reform bill to undo the increase imposed last week for in-state mail to communities not linked by road. But he said he secured a separate commitment from the postmaster general to lower rates immediately, or as soon as the post office can change its machines.
The proposed Pebble Mine isn’t at the permit stage yet, but it continues to make news. This week, anti-mine groups released a letter signed by more than 300 scientists opposing the project, and the Pebble Partnership has announced a shuffle at the top. Attorney Tom Collier will become CEO, taking over from John Shively, who will stay on as chairman of the board. Meanwhile, Shively is taking aim at a recent anti-Pebble TV spot.
The U.S. Senate passed a four-year farm bill Tuesday that includes Payments in Lieu of Taxes. The so-called PILT program sends some $26 million a year to Alaska communities adjacent to non-taxable federal lands. The bill also renews Alaska’s Village Safe Water program, which gets some $30 million a year from the federal government.
The U.S. House passed a bill Wednesday that included a provision allowing some 41 American sport hunters to bring polar bear trophies home from Canada.
A campaign by Senator Lisa Murkowski to lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports got its first hearing in Washington today. It’s been 25 years since Congress has formally considered the ban it adopted during the Arab oil embargo, but the recent energy boom in the Lower 48 is triggering new debates.
The U.S. House today passed a farm bill that includes programs for Alaska unrelated to agriculture. The bill continues another year of funding for Payment in Lieu of Taxes, a program that pays municipalities surrounded by federal land to compensate for the loss of tax base. The so-called PILT program sends about $26 million a year to Alaska and is a large portion of the budget for some local governments. The bill also renews Alaska’s Village Safe Water program, which gets some $30 million a year from the federal government.