Liz Ruskin, APRN
lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | About Liz
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter affirmed on Tuesday the need for a U.S. military strategy for the Arctic as Russia builds its military in the north.
The U.S. Congress tonight approved a one-week continuing resolution to avoid a partial shut down of the Department of Homeland Security. Earlier today, Alaska’s two Republican senators split over a bill that would fund the department for the rest of the fiscal year.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell defended his management of the Tongass National Forest today to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the panel, says the service isn’t allowing enough timber sales to keep what remains of the logging industry in Southeast Alaska in business.
The F-35 aircraft, the new fighter the Air Force wants to keep at Eielson Air Force base, has been plagued by cost overruns and equipment failures, but Air Force brass told a U.S. Senate Committee this morning those problems are in the past.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski confronted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The subject was the president’s proposed budget for the Interior Department. But Murkowski used the occasion to bash Jewell for recent department decisions blocking oil development on the North Slope.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell faced off in a Senate hearing Tuesday morning in Washington.
The Department of Interior today released proposed new Arctic-specific drilling standards for offshore oil exploration. They would require an Arctic operator to have a well cap at hand, but more controversially, a rig on standby that can drill a relief well within 45 days if there’s a blowout.
Gallup today released its annual Index of Well-Being, and for the first time, Alaska tops the list. The researchers who produce the Gallup-Healthways report say Alaska residents had the highest well-being in the nation in 2014.
The Gallup report doesn’t attempt to reconcile its findings with all those other lists that have Alaska at or near the top: Suicide rate, sexual assaults per capita and domestic abuse.
President Barack Obama has stopped in Alaska to refuel, but he plans to make his first real trip to the state in August, in the company of Secretary of State John Kerry. Or so says U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She let it slip during her annual address to the Alaska Legislature today, a speech aimed primarily at fighting the administration’s moves to shield parts of the Arctic from oil development.
Sec. of State John Kerry’s agenda these days is dominated by the world’s hot spots: Iran, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski met with him this week to move his focus to a cold spot: the Arctic. “The secretary is very focused on issues as they relate to climate, so that aspect of the Arctic, I think it’s fair to say, he is engaged, ” she said after the meeting. “I don’t think that he has the bigger Arctic picture, the other Arctic pictures.”
Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out February 27, unless Congress can resolve an impasse over immigration policy riders the House included in its funding bill. Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan today stood with conservative lawmakers, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, calling on the Senate to pass the House bill.
In the U.S. Senate today, the Environment and Public Works Committee took up a plan by President Obama to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The proposed EPA regulation would require a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2030. Republicans call it federal overreach, and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan had more objections than time allowed.
Alaska fishermen have three years before the EPA is supposed to begin regulating deck wash, bilge water and other liquids discharged from small vessels. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski this week introduced a bill to permanently block the regulation for commercial vessels under 79 feet. Senate co-sponsors include Alaska’s Dan Sullivan, and California Democrat Barbara Boxer.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy today defended a proposed Clean Water Act rule to a joint committee of Congress. Republican critics charge is an egregious case of federal overreach, and the rule is of special concern in Alaska.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski has filed a bill to forever change the name of Mount McKinley to Denali. As in past years, it will no doubt be blocked by lawmakers from Ohio, the birth state of President McKinley. Murkowski says it’s still an important cause.
“It’s something that Alaskans look at in the state and are just reminded that there are decisions that are done for us, outside the state, without consultation,” she said.
The Senate today unanimously passed a bill aimed at preventing suicide among veterans. U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said it’s an important bill for Alaska, which has the highest number of vets per capita and also the highest rate of suicide.
“As an officer in the Marine Corps both on active duty and in the Reserves, I’ve personally witnessed the struggles, at times tragic, that some of our servicemen and women undergo,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
The budget President Obama sent Congress this week includes $1 million for the office of the federal coordinator for the Alaska natural gas pipeline. But the current coordinator, Larry Persily, says he’s still shutting down his offices in Anchorage and Washington, D.C.
After Shell’s troubled 2012 drilling season in the far north, the Interior Department began working on Arctic-specific standards for offshore drilling. But those new standards aren’t done yet. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says they won’t be in place to guide Shell’s planned return to the Chukchi Sea this year.
“We’ll be holding them to the standards that we’ve held them to before, with upgrades and proof that they can do what they say they do before they’re allowed to go up there,” Jewell told reporters in a press call today, primarily talking about the president’s budget for her department.
The CEO of Royal Dutch Shell says the company intends to return to the Chukchi Sea this summer to drill exploratory wells. But CEO Ben van Beurden says Shell still needs permits, among other challenges. “So, will we go ahead? Yes, if we can,” he said at a press conference in London.
ConocoPhillips Alaska says it is “slowing the pace of investment” in its Greater Moose’s Tooth 1 project, in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Company president Trond-Erik Johansen says they are “deferring the final investment decision.”