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KNBA News - Sen. Lisa Murkowski to hold energy hearing in Bethel

Feb 21, 2016

Feb. 15, 2016

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski leads field hearing of Energy Committee in Bethel

By the Associated Press

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will join a host of state and federal officials in Bethel today to talk rural energy needs.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski is holding a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Energy Committee, which she chairs. The hearing will focus on alternative energy projects throughout the state – as well as the continuing challenge of high rural energy costs.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington will attend the hearing, as well as Republican; and Independent party senators.

Governor Bill Walker and Bethel Representative Bob Herron are scheduled to testify.

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LEO program launches new app connecting observers, experts

By Joaqlin Estus, KNBA - Anchorage

Last week at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage high-level EPA officials presented an award to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for its Local Environmental Observer, or LEO program.

LEO managers used the occasion to launch a new app for the LEO website.

Moses Tcharinikoff is a geographer for the LEO network. He says some twenty thousand people have visited the LEO website’s interactive map over the past few years. The map is linked to photos, videos, and short reports on unusual or unique environmental events.

“It could be weather-related, erosion, for example or invasive species from large animals to insects, for example,” Tcharinikoff said.

Local environmental observers have been using computers to post data. LEO program director Mike Brubaker says the new app allows them to post by smart-phone and automatically adds GPS and time data. Experts at federal, state, or tribal agencies or in academia can then comment or answer questions:

“So what we’ve tried to do is build a system that is transparent and responsive and actually connects people with people who are topic experts,” Brubaker said.

Brubaker says, LEO can help bring attention to important issues:

“If someone posted in one community they may find out quickly that it’s not just themselves but there’s someone upstream, downstream, up-coast, down-coast, somewhere else who may be experiencing the same thing,” Brubaker said. “Then you’ve got not just an isolated event. You have a broader event happening, which can help garner resources and develop partnerships, and then you can hopefully lead to answers.”

LEO can also help people prepare for or adapt to climate change effects. For instance, Brubaker says Alaska Department of Fish and Game veterinarians have documented the first sightings of mule deer in Interior Alaska. He says a new food source is welcome, but mule deer can also carry winter ticks, which often suck the life out of their host as they feed on its blood:

“If winter tick is introduced to our moose population or our caribou population it has implications for that wildlife resource, and for subsistence, and maybe even other species,” Brubaker said. “So when we hear something like that, we put out an alert to the network and ask people and give them guidance on how they can observe for emerging threats.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is a major funder of LEO. EPA region ten administrator Dennis McClaren presented ANTHC with an award for innovation, saying they’re breaking new ground in citizen science:

“And we know people back in DC are looking at this. We know that it’s really an innovation that’s going to take off like crazy,” McClaren said.

LEO is already being used as a model by two committees of the 8-nation Arctic Council. They’re creating a circumpolar local environmental observer network called CLEO.

The Finnish ministry of environment plans to host CLEO training at the Sami Cultural Center of Finland. And U.S. regulators are working with Canadians to expand CLEO across North America.

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Veteran Legislator Max Gruenberg dies in Juneau

By The Associated Press

Representative Max Gruenberg, one of Alaska’s longest-serving members of the Alaska legislature passed away Sunday morning at his home in Juneau. Gruenberg arrived in Alaska in 1970 and served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1985 to 1993, and again from 2003 until now. He twice served as House Majority Leader and had recently been serving as the whip for the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition. He was also a well-known family lawyer.

Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition Leader Rep. Chris Tuck says Gruenberg was an institution in the Legislature, and "will be remembered as one of the great lawmakers in our state's history."

The last legislative vacancy occurred in 2014, when Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula resigned.

In the case of a vacancy, the governor appoints a member of the same political party as the predecessor. That appointment will subject to confirmation by the House's Democratic-led caucus.Max Gruenberg was 72.

Governor Bill Walker ordered flags to be lowered concurrently for Rep. Gruenberg and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was found dead Saturday morning in his room at a West Texas resort ranch.

NOTE: Posted 2/21/16