Liz Ruskin, APRN
lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | About Liz
Governor Sean Parnell on Friday signed a bill to finance a $900 million bridge across Knik Arm, from Anchorage to Point McKenzie. Bridge proponents originally wanted to fund the project entirely with federal earmarks. But then Congress banned earmarks, in part due to public outrage over this bridge and another in Ketchikan, both derided nationally as “bridges to nowhere.” The new Knik bridge plan is contingent on low-interest loans from the federal government.
The House Ethics Committee today issued a letter of reprimand to Alaska Congressman Don Young for spending campaign money on trips to hunting lodges and improperly accepting gifts, many of them from lobbyists and related to travel.
The U.S. House Ethics Committee today issued a letter of reproval to Alaska Congressman Don Young for accepting multiple hunting trips as gifts in violation of the House Gift Rule. The committee says he should repay $59,000 for gifts and expenses related to 15 hunting trips between 2001 and 2013.
In Congress today, a bill that would allow foreign students to work in Alaska fish processing plants cleared a major committee. The provision is part of a spending bill now headed to the Senate floor. Both Alaska senators say they pressed for the return of the J-1 visa program to help meet demand for seasonal seafood processors. But, the program is controversial.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today the government is sending $28.5 million to local governments in Alaska to compensate them for the tax-exempt federal land within their boundaries. It’s called “Payment-in-lieu of taxes” and this year’s total is $2 million higher than last year.
President Obama announced today he intends to vastly expand the Pacific Remote Islands marine sanctuary, putting a swath of the south-central Pacific off-limits to fishing and energy development. The announcement is part of a high-profile oceans conference taking place this week at the State Department. Australian scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg focused on ocean acidification, which he says undermines the entire marine food chain – from plankton and shellfish to bowhead whales.
The ground-based missile defense system, which includes interceptors at Fort Greeley, failed at target practice over the Pacific last year. Now the Pentagon is asking Congress for money to overhaul the system. The budget request shows Alaska is likely to remain central to missile defense as the system matures.
U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan is calling on incumbent Mark Begich to sign a pledge to discourage outside groups from running political ads in the race. The pledge would impose a financial penalty on a campaign that benefits from Outside spending. Begich campaign isn’t buying it.
Ninty-nine percent of veterans seeking medical appointments from the Anchorage VA are seen within 30 days. That’s according to a Veterans Affairs audit released Monday.
Alaska utilities and policymakers are puzzling over President Obama’s proposal to cut carbon pollution from power plants and what the rules would mean for Alaska. Around the country, the proposal is viewed as a push to get states to clean up their coal plants, but that may not be the easiest way for Alaska to meet its target.
Former Fort Richardson soldier Bowe Bergdahl was released over the weekend from nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan. Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators issued warm statements welcoming the news, but in Washington, the price paid for Bergdahl’s release and questions about how he became separated from his unit are igniting a political firestorm.
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee today moved a bill to update the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary fisheries law in federal waters. Alaska Congressman Don Young amended the bill to allow subsistence fishermen a voice on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski told the Senate Appropriations Committee she hopes the FDA never allows genetically modified salmon to reach supermarket shelves.
“But we haven’t been able to get the FDA able to slow down off their track of approval,” she said.
So, Murkowski says, they should at least require “that they put on the package of fish: This is a genetically modified salmon.”
An Army Inspector General found no fault with how the Alaska National Guard handled reports of sexual assault and harassment. At least, that’s how the Inspector General’s office for the Defense Department explained it in a letter to Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She says she won’t comment until she gets a chance to see the IG report for herself.
About 200 national wildlife refuges have oil and gas development. Among them: the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the only refuge in Alaska with active petroleum extraction. The agency that manages refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wants rules to regulate that activity. Alaska Congressman Don Young doesn’t like the idea, and he wasn’t quiet about it at a Congressional hearing today.
A report released Monday from the Government Accountability Office suggests U.S. participation in the Arctic Council lacks coordination and follow-through.
In Sen. Ted Stevens’ day, Alaska thrived on earmarks, the congressional practice of directing federal dollars to home-state projects. Lawmakers agreed in 2011 to end the tradition, in response to public outrage over projects such as Alaska’s so-called “bridge to nowhere.” To this day, nearly every account of alleged excess features as Exhibit A the bridge that would’ve connected Ketchikan to its island airport. But now, there’s serious talk in Washington of bringing back the earmark.