Alaska News Nightly: December 7, 2009

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Shell Gets MMS OK to Explore in Chukchi
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Minerals Management Service today approved Shell Alaska’s oil and gas exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea. There are still a number of hurdles Shell will have to get past before their drill rig the Frontier Discoverer can start work in July. MMS Alaska region director John Goll says Shell will need a host of other permits marine mammal protection act authorizations as well as a air quality permit from the EPA. Goll says many companies wait till spring to start this process but Shell started a year in advance.

Alaskans Address Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The United Nations Climate Change Conference started on Monday in Copenhagen, Denmark, where representatives from nearly 200 countries will spend the next 10 days negotiating a potential climate change treaty.

Obama Administration Issues Finding on Greenhouse Gases
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
The Obama administration is seeking to strengthen the government’s bargaining position at the Copenhagen climate treaty talks by issuing a long-awaited finding that Carbon Dioxide, Methane and other greenhouse gases are an endangerment to public health. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says the rule is the next step in complying with a Supreme Court ruling that said greenhouse gases can be regulated as pollutants.  That ruling came down in 2007, and was not acted on by the Bush administration.

US Supreme Court to Hear Weyhrauch Case
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Tuesday in the case of former Alaska state legislator Bruce Weyhrauch. The Republican who represented Juneau is accused of asking oil field services company VECO for a job while working with VECO on a bill it favored. Weyhrauch faces federal mail fraud charges because he used the mail to contact VECO executives about the job.

Fish Board Asks State to Be Aware of Mining Operations
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The state Fish Board was willing to write a letter, but it backed away from recommending the state Legislature make the Kvichak and Nushagak river drainages into a salmon refuge.  The letter to the state government will urge it to be aware of the peril an open pit copper mine such as the proposed Pebble Project could pose to fisheries there.

Winds Rip Unalaska
Anne Hillman, KUCB – Unalaska
A massive storm rocked Unalaska on Friday night and toppled the 110-foot high APL cargo container crane. Winds started kicking up around 6 pm and by about 8 pm wind speeds ranged from 80 mph to about 125 mph. Some sources are saying they went even higher.

Juneau Losing Jobs in Auto Business
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
About 40 people have lost their jobs in Juneau and Ketchikan auto dealerships with the sudden closure of Skinner Sales and Service.  An unstaffed Skinner used car store in Sitka also has closed.  The problem appears to be undisclosed financial difficulties. Local employees say the poor economy is a small factor. The company apparently has been facing financial issues for some time. Skinner Sales and Service is owned by Rob Skinner, formerly of Ketchikan, and now of Idaho. He has not returned phone calls or emails.

Iditarod Cutting Prize Money Again
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The Iditarod sled dog is cutting prize money again and slashing staff salaries by 20 percent. Race director Stan Hooley says the organization has lost close to one million dollars in funding over the past year. That money was generated by two media partnerships and three sponsors, including Cabela’s.

Coast Guard Eyeing Biomass Heating Projects
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
The Coast Guard is considering a number of biomass heating projects in Southeast – using wood from local sources as fuel to heat facilities in Sitka and Ketchikan.  The plans have been in the works, but were brought up again as part of a larger discussion on whether wood from the Tongass could be part of a more widespread energy industry. The Tongass Futures Roundtable is a group representing business, environmental, policy and native interests in the Tongass National Forest and Southeast Alaska.