Alaska News Nightly: January 28, 2008

Tonight in Alaska news… The Alaska Legislature considers whether to amend the state’s Constitution — to protect oil companies from fluctuating gas taxes. Plus, an environmental lawyer tells us about the battle to acquire documents from the Mineral Management Service, the federal agency planning to sell natural gas leases in the Chukchi Sea — against the wishes of environmentalists protecting polar bears and Alaska Natives concerned about whales and subsistence hunting. Meanwhile, firefighters in Anchorage work to bring what ESPN calls the “toughest two minutes in sports” to Alaska. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Should Legislature pass Constitutional Amendment for gas tax certainties?
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Fairbanks Representative Jay Ramras is looking for industry and government input for a Constitutional Amendment he’s sponsored. If approved by the public, the amendment would allow the state to guarantee tax certainty to producers who send natural gas from the North Slope to southern markets.

Environmental groups seeking MMS documents disclosure
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit in federal court today seeking to force the release of more than 5,000 pages of e-mail and other documents related to the plan for oil and gas lease sales in the Chukchi Sea. The groups filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in September 2007 with the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to gain access to the scientific documents that went into the environmental review for the proposed lease sale. The conservation organizations are concerned the lease sales could adversely affect polar bears. We spoke with Eric Jorgensen, an attorney for Earthjustice. He says the Chukchi Sea lease sale encompasses nearly 30 million acres and is proposed for February. Calls to the Minerals Management Service for comment were not returned.

Stevens, Murkowski and Young submit Exxon Valdez amicus brief
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Senator Ted Stevens today laid out the groundwork for the amicus brief that was filed in support of the Exxon Valdez oil spill plaintiff’s punitive damage award case. The case is before the U.S. Supreme Court and the amicus was filed last week on behalf of the Alaska Congressional delegation of Senator Stevens, Senator Murkowski and Congressman Don Young. The $2.5 billion Exxon Valdez oil spill punitive damage litigation case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court next month.

Comments open on proposed Yukon Flats refuge / oil development land exchange
Libby Casey, KUAC – Fairbanks
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposed land exchange in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. The public now has 60 days to comment. The controversial land swap would open the doors to oil and gas development within the Refuge boundary.

Sitka Fine Arts Camp honored at White House ceremony
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, DC
The Sitka Fine Arts Camp got a special honor at the White House today. The 30-year-old summer program exposes rural Alaskan kids to a range of arts and received a “Coming Up Taller” award. For the past 10 years these awards have been handed out by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities to honor programs that let young people be creative, learn and contribute to their communities. First Lady Laura Bush hosted the ceremony. In addition to the recognition, the Sitka Fine Arts Camp is receiving a cash prize of $10,000. Fourteen other U.S. groups received awards this year, as well as groups from Mexico and China.

Anchorage could host Alaska’s first-ever firefighter combat competition
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage’s nationally- and internationally-successful Firefighter Combat Challenge team is used to battling other teams and the clock. But right now, the five-man team from the Anchorage Fire Department faces another foe — the calendar.

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Sitka may oppose 37-year old Native land-transfer process
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
The Sealaska Corporation is asking Sitka to delay consideration of a resolution opposing Native land selections within the Sitka Community Use Area. A delegation from Sealaska, including state senator Albert Kookesh, took a charter flight from Juneau to testify before the Sitka Assembly.

Catholic Church reformer speaking in Fairbanks and Anchorage
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A national Catholic Church reform leader is visiting Alaska. Sister Christine Schenk is the director of Future Church. She says the Ohio-based coalition is dedicated to stemming a decline in the number of Catholic priests by loosening church rules. The role of women in Christianity will be the subject of talks Schenk is giving in Fairbanks Saturday and in Anchorage on Sunday. Her visit to Alaska is sponsored by the Alaska chapter of the Catholic reform group “Call to Action.”