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Alaska editorials

December 24, 2018

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:

Dec. 23, 2018

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Dunleavy should speak to climate change: UAA report spells out the costs of climate change in Alaska

University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research released a report in November called “Economic Effects of Climate Change in Alaska.” This new report should grab your attention.

Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the Lower 48 since the 1950s. The report’s bottom line: Climate change could cost the state $340 million to $700 million annually. The report identifies three “high certainty, large effect” impacts climate change will have on Alaska:

— Permafrost thaw and coastal erosion is taking a toll on some infrastructure and some communities. Infrastructure repair and replacement will become costly, and some buildings’ life expectancies would decrease. In some cases, damage to water or sewage lines could cause temporary displacement for Alaskans.

— Community relocation due to coastal erosion and flooding could cost an estimated $80 million to $200 million per community, based on estimates made in 2009. More than 30 villages might need to be relocated. Newtok is in a precarious situation and has gained national attention as the Ningliq River quickly erodes its banks and moves closer to destroying this Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta village.

— A positive of climate change is the continued decrease in space heating costs. Alaskans are projected to save hundreds of millions of dollars in decades to come as home, business and government heating costs decrease.

The report also identified high-certainty, medium-effect impacts:

— Due to shorter winters and drier soil, wildfires are expected to increase. This has the potential to increase firefighting costs, create more public safety hazards and increase property damage.

— Ice road transportation would be reduced. “In rural Alaska, where surface transportation infrastructure is extremely limited, snow and ice offer a low-cost alternative for moving people, goods and heavy industrial equipment,” the report states. “The shorter and milder cold season reduces the season length for ice road use, increases risk of travel on river ice, and increases wear and tear on snowmachines.”

— Subsistence living could become more difficult, especially for those people who rely on marine mammals as harvests and access to harvests decrease.

That economic impact is an estimate and would depend largely on variable factors yet to be played out. The speed at which the climate changes and how much it changes will have a dramatic bearing. How will Alaska adapt? What technological advances and implementations will the state use to mitigate climate changes effects? The most recent state report on population growth predicted an increase of roughly 100,000 people in Alaska by 2045, with most of the boom occurring in the Matanuska Susitna Valley. More people would require more infrastructure and subsequent repairs.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is still transitioning into his new position. He will also be busy with the upcoming legislative session. But climate change is here, and it’s on many Alaskans’ minds. The governor has not said much on the subject. Gov. Dunleavy should let Alaskans know in the near future what his administration’s climate change policy is.

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Dec. 22, 2018

Ketchikan Daily News: Prevent Fires

This week’s house fire in Saxman is a reminder that tragedy doesn’t take a holiday.

Local reports of chimney fires and other house fires enforce that.

Regardless of what started those fires, the number of flammable items around the home increase at Christmas. Christmas trees are flammable. Candle flames, electrical decorations, holiday baking and cooking, you name it, and it’s a potential fire hazard.

December is one of the months in which house fires are most frequently reported to fire departments in the United States. Between 2012 and 2016, fire departments responded to an average of 800 home fires per year that started with Christmas decorations, not including trees. The fires resulted in deaths, injuries and $12 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

While cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires and injuries year-round, NFPA says that most fires occur on Thanksgiving Day. Christmas came in second in terms of frequency during 2016. December 2016 experienced a 73-percent increase in the number of home-cooking fires compared to a non-holiday.

Fires caused by Christmas trees tend to be the most deadly. One out of every 45 such fires results in death, NFPA statistics show. That compares to one in 139 on a non-holiday.

Most fires in December — 56 percent — are caused by candles, and most frequently on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

Of course, being more aware of the potential fire danger is the beginning of preventing such a tragedy. Ensuring that a home’s electrical wiring isn’t vulnerable to increased voltage needed for light displays, and placing candles in places where they can’t be knocked over or into other flammable household items tops the list of precautionary measures, as well.

Smoke alarms and fire extinguishers should be on standby. They might save lives, prevent injuries, and contain damage — particularly if they have been serviced recently.

Ketchikan is no stranger to house fires. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be contained. By taking precautions, that’s exactly what happens.

Let’s enjoy a warm, but not too warm, Christmas holiday.

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Dec. 23, 2018

Anchorage Daily News: A House divided: Legislature risks repeating chaos of 1981

With less than a month until the beginning of the 2019 legislative session, there’s still no plan for who will be in charge of the House when the Alaska Legislature gavels in because of uncertainty over the body’s makeup and fractiousness among the Republicans who hold a majority of seats. This may not seem like a big deal, but it sets Alaska behind.

At stake is nothing less than Alaska’s economic future: We face a $1.6 billion budget deficit that could imperil the state’s fragile recovery from recession, as well as difficult decisions about how to close that gap and make sure funding problems don’t plague us in the future.

Even in a state with a population as small as Alaska’s, the process of funding government is contentious and difficult, and the fact that the House’s new class of legislators hasn’t been able to make its first decision bodes ill for the rest that follow.

The 1981 legislative session provides a cautionary tale. That year, Democrats held 22 seats in the 40-member House. This year the Republicans have 22, with a 23rd hanging in the balance, as House District 1 won’t be decided until January — just before the legislative session starts — after a court challenge to Republican Bart LeBon’s presumptive one-vote victory.

In a body where the majority rules, the all-important question in the Alaska House is who can build a caucus containing more than half its 40 members, granting them leadership posts and sway in building the state budget. In 1981, Democrats failed to organize a majority until 22 days into the session, despite having more than half the seats, because of disagreement among their members about who would wield the powerful chairmanship of the Finance Committee. This year, despite having more than half the seats, Republicans are still seeking to build a majority. Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux and Louise Stutes, despite being Republicans, are persona non grata within the party after caucusing with Democrats in the bipartisan majority of the last session. Rep. David Eastman, on the GOP’s right flank, said he wouldn’t support Rep. Dave Talerico, the Republicans’ choice for speaker of the House. And Rep. Gary Knopp said he didn’t want to caucus with a razor-thin majority because of the danger of implosion and chaos midway through the session. By those numbers, even if LeBon prevails, there would be only 19 Republicans willing to form a caucus, with 16 Democrats and one independent on the other side of the aisle, and four Republicans of varying ideologies caught in between. Put simply, it’s a mess.

So how did that 1981 session end up after Democrats managed to cobble together a slim majority? Well, let’s put it this way: Rep. Knopp is right to be worried about the dangers of a bare-minimum majority. The Legislature stayed in session for a whopping 165 days, marked by a shocking June coup when Republicans lured disgruntled Democrats away from the majority and ousted House leadership. Alaskans were so disgusted at lawmakers’ disorganization that they overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment limiting the legislative session to 120 days.

If that’s not bad enough, in 1981, lawmakers had plenty of money for the budget. Alaska was riding high on the oil boom in Prudhoe Bay. This year, the state looks to be facing a double-whammy that recalls the challenges the Legislature faced during former Gov. Bill Walker’s tenure: flat oil production and slumping prices, coupled with a $1.6 billion budget deficit. This year will require diligent attention to the challenges of balancing the budget, doing as little harm as possible to the economy and working to chart a course toward less dependence on volatile oil prices for essential budget items such as transportation, education, public safety and health care.

There’s too much essential business on the docket this year to risk a fiasco like the 1981 session, which would be costly, chaotic and serve no one. Representatives and their constituents alike should recognize that, and push to organize a majority caucus that can help address Alaska’s issues rather than punting budget leadership to Gov. Dunleavy and the Senate.

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