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4/7/15 - Legislative leaders vote to seize millions of acres of federal lands

Legislators debate states’ rights and constitutionality of a state law to seize federal lands

Monday, legislators voted on a controversial bill that would seize some 170 million acres of federal land in Alaska, excluding national parks and the military. Opponents said the bill is unconstitutional, and, with a fiscal crisis at hand, now is not the time to begin pointless litigation. But bill supporters said Alaskans should be able to fight for what is rightfully theirs. The bill passed 27 to 11 along caucus lines. It will now be sent to the Senate.


First VPSOs to be armed finish Academy training

By Rachel Waldholz, KCAW

Two Village Public Safety Officers Friday graduated from firearm training at the Public Safety Training Academy in Sitka, becoming the first officers in the 40-year history of the program to be armed.

First Sergeant James Hoelscher of Hooper Bay and Corporal Michael Gagliano of Noatak were certified in a ceremony attended by Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott.

Representative Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham wrote the legislation to arm village officers after VPSO Thomas Madole, of Manokotak , was shot and killed in 2013.

Corporal Gagliano , standing with his one-year-old son in his arms, said after the ceremony Madole’s death was one reason he’d gone through with the training.

“After Tom died, Tom was in my class here back in 2012, actually from the same state I’m from, so we were pretty close,” said Gagliano.” After he died, you know, there was definitely some changes that needed to be made.”

Gagliano said he hopes Madole did not die in vain.


Bill introduced a bill to allow fish and game donations to non-profit food programs

Last Wednesday, eight legislators introduced a bill that would allow Alaskans to donate sport- and subsistence-harvested fish and game to non-profit programs. Under House Bill 179, schools, senior centers, and other non-profits could legally serve donated fish and game such as moose, caribou, and salmon.


Washington, DC officials, experts – and one Alaskan - discuss Arctic oil development

By Liz Ruskin, APRN

With two of Shell’s rigs now crossing the Pacific in hopes of drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer, officials and energy experts gathered at a forum in Washington this week to review the rewards and challenges ahead for Arctic oil development.

Jan Mares, an energy policy advisor and former Homeland Security official, says the prize is within the industry’s technical reach.

“The U.S oil potential, off-shore in our Arctic, seems to be about 44 billion barrels of oil equivalents, in less than 100 meters of water,” said Mares. “That’s actually pretty shallow, by oil and gas development offshore.”

Mares contributed to a report released last week by the National Petroleum Council that says the country must start developing the Arctic now so its oil will be available once shale oil production in the Lower 48 declines.

Mares says well-control technology has improved greatly since the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Even if it fails, Mares says, equipment would be available to stop the flow of oil.

“The first one that would be the most significant in terms of reducing any possibility is what’s called a subsea shutoff device,” said Mares. “I’ll show a picture of that in a minute. The second one would be a capping stack.”

Former Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes emphasized the challenges.

With all the headlines about the receding ice in Alaska, Hayes says some don’t realize the operating season in Alaska’s far north is short, maybe 90 days.

“And this is something that’s frankly a little hard to digest but we are looking at potentially drilling and potentially producing in a region that is mostly ice-bound most of the year,” said Hayes.

Hayes says operators would have to stop drilling well before the end of the season.

“So that if there is a spill, there’s time to address it before the ice comes,” said Hayes, “because there’s no technology known to be able to clean up a spill effectively in icy water.”

And, Hayes says, there may be other interruptions.

“You also have intrusion issues,” added Hayes.” When Shell had their program in the summer of 2012 they had to get off the Chukchi well because a huge iceberg was heading right for it, and they had to move off, lose a week or two, then move back.”

Willie Goodwin, a former mayor of Kotzebue, was the only Alaskan on the panel. Goodwin was unimpressed by talk at the forum about clean-up equipment and technology.

“You know, for me as a hunter,” said Goodwin, “you’ll never convince me that you’re going to clean it up.”

Goodwin’s main message at the forum, hosted by Washington think tank Resources for the Future, was that policymakers should have more meaningful consultation with local Inupiat.