Alaska News Nightly: March 29, 2011

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Delegation Reacts to US Mission in Libya
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska’s Congressional delegation has concerns over the U.S. mission in Libya – and questions about the end-goal.  Last night President Obama addressed the nation about his decision 10 days ago to take military action in the North African country.  The U.S. and NATO are enforcing a no-fly zone over Libyan skies.  While the President said NATO is expected to take over more of the operation this week, the U.S. is expending its planes, missiles, and hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s a Republican member of the delegation, Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has the warmest words for Obama’s speech.

Murkowski says the U.S. and other leading nations can’t stand by and watch the slaughter of innocent civilians.  But she has grave concerns about what happens next – and wants to make sure the U.S. isn’t mired in Libya for a long time.

Just what happens next is also of concern to Senator Mark Begich, and he says the U.S. cannot be the world’s peacekeepers and police force.

The Democrat says he has “strong reservations” about the U-S action.

The Obama Administration will make its case before Senate and House Committees later this week – and Begich expects to ask questions at an Armed Services Committee hearing.

Congressman Don Young says he has “no love of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi” and thinks the Libyan leader should have been in his words “eliminated” a long time ago.  But he does not think the U.S. can afford this effort.

Young still stands behind his votes supporting the Iraq War and says Saddam Hussein was a leader that needed to be removed.  He says however that the U.S. should not be in Afghanistan, and says it’s unwinnable.

Agencies Grapple With Climate Change
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Congress is not really focusing on it yet, but behind the scenes a number of federal agencies are beginning to grapple with the practicalities of dealing with climate change, particularly in the Arctic, where the average temperature has risen much faster than in the rest of the country – in much of Alaska an average degree and a half above 1980’s temperatures last year. A new report done for the U.S. Navy is an example.

Collective Bargaining Conundrum Reaches Juneau
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Threats to public employee collective bargaining rights have reached Alaska.

Palmer Republican State Representative Carl Gatto has introduced a bill mimicking controversial measures in Wisconsin and other states. Gatto says he wants to ensure fiscal certainty for future generations of Alaskans. But Governor Sean Parnell and Gatto’s fellow lawmakers say it’s unnecessary.

Lawmakers Address Insurance Coverage of Autism Diagnosis, Treatment
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
Alaskan lawmakers are again considering legislation that would require health insurance companies cover the diagnosis and treatment for Autism.   As it is, parents of Autistic children say they have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket to cover therapy and counseling costs.

Fairbanks Looks into Fluoride Issue
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The city of Fairbanks is holding public comment sessions tonight and tomorrow night on a city commissioned task force report about fluoride in drinking water.  The task force spent the last year researching the issue and recently released a draft report that recommends Golden Heart Utilities stop adding fluoride to municipal water.  Many communities across the country have stopped adding fluoride to the water over concerns about health side effects, including dental fluorosis, a pitting or mottling of tooth enamel that baby teeth are especially susceptible to.   There are also less proven links between fluoride and skeletal fluorosis, endocrine gland disruptions and cancer. Fairbanks Fluoride Task Force member Dr. Beth Medford says a recent American Dental Association recommendation that fluoridated water not be used to reconstitute baby formula was key for her.

Water with 1 part per million fluoride has been linked to dental fluorosis. The fluoride concentration in Fairbanks city water was recently dropped from 1 part per million to point 7 parts per million in response to the new ADA stance.  Many dentists stand behind water fluoridation as an important tool for preventing cavities.  Dr. Medford says task force members struggled to weigh the pluses and minus of fluoride in water.

Medford says there’s a lot of data on fluoride in water but none of it is definitive.  The issue is complicated by the inability to account for variables like how much fluoridated water people drink, and other factors effecting dental and general health.

BLM Investigates Red Devil Mine Contamination
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is getting ready to peel back a layer at the contaminated Red Devil Mine on the Kuskokwim River.  The old mine site already holds the regrettable distinction of being the largest producer of Mercury in the entire State. This next summer, biologists will try to see how much deeper the pollution runs.

Bill Would Establish Public Gardens Day
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Alaska isn’t exactly known as a Mecca for gardeners, but a bill establishing a Public Gardens Day passed the state House Tuesday.

House Bill 18 was sponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Beth Kerttula of Juneau, who says a constituent proposed it to her and she initially dismissed the idea.

Under the bill, the Saturday before Memorial Day every year would be Alaska Public Gardens Day. Kerttula sees it as an opportunity for Alaskans to explore the types of gardens they can grow, and for tourists to learn more about small-scale agriculture in the state.

The bill passed the House 37 to 1. Anchorage Representative Mike Hawker cast the only no vote. It now goes to the state Senate.