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Alaska editorials

October 2, 2018

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:

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Sept. 30, 2018

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Proposition 1: Ballot initiative raises questions about salmon, economy, Alaska’s future

Alaska Ballot Measure 1 has left some people wondering what to stand for — salmon or Alaska? Each camp has valid arguments, and Ballot Measure 1 should be given thoughtful consideration.

In short, this ballot initiative — if enacted by the voters — would add and amend a combined 14 sections to Alaska law that provides for the protection of salmon and their habitat. Under the proposed law, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner would be charged with ensuring those protections. The commissioner would be authorized to adopt regulations to do so. Among the regulations the commissioner would adopt is what defines an anadromous fish habitat. Anadromous fish are those that migrate from the sea and swim up rivers and streams to spawn, such as salmon.

The proposed law would also require any person or business that wants to do “certain activities” that would “use, divert, obstruct, pollute, disturb or otherwise alter” an anadromous fish habitat to obtain a fish habitat permit. To obtain the permit, the applicant would need to show how the habitat is protected. If the habitat is to be damaged, the applicant must show how the damage would be mitigated.

The Stand for Salmon initiative was launched as a way to pre-empt the The Pebble Partnership from developing a large gold mine about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage. The Pebble Mine’s proximity to Bristol Bay, which is the largest salmon fishery in the world, alarmed many Alaskans and environmental groups. If the tailings dam were to fail and toxic waste spilled, would it spell the end for Bristol Bay salmon? In August, the Alaska Supreme Court struck key provisions from the ballot measure, one of which would have most certainly prevented the Pebble Mine from being developed.

This initiative, as is, certainly has the capability of slowing development in Alaska — a tough pill to swallow for a state in the middle of a recession. Jobs are needed and people are hoping for the economy to pick up. This would likely put a damper on that.

Additional salmon habitat mitigation regulations, as required by the initiative, could add costs to resource development projects; this could decrease profits and encourage resource development corporations to look elsewhere. In some cases, development projects might be denied permits. The largest donors to the opposition group, Stand for Alaska, are ConocoPhillips Alaska, BP Alaska and Donlin Gold.

Interior mines Kinross Fort Knox and Sumitomo’s Pogo Mine have each contributed more than $400,000 to the campaign as well. These companies provide some of the best jobs in the Interior. Each appears to be far from shutting down; in fact, each is hoping to expand operations. How would the initiative affect these companies? Does this initiative put too much power in the hands of the Fish and Game commissioner?

With the current regulations, Alaska remains the greatest salmon resource in the world. If it’s not broke, why fix it?

On the other side of the river, proponents of the initiative — Stand for Salmon — are making valid arguments, too. The salmon are a way of life for many people in the state. Whether it’s the fishermen in Kodiak, the Fairbanksan who dip-nets in Chitina, or the father who feeds his family with salmon in a rural village, salmon remain an important part of this state’s economy and culture.

Is there anything wrong with wanting to add protections for Alaska’s greatest natural renewable resource?

Salmon runs and salmon numbers have been depleted in Oregon, Idaho and Washington. It would be folly to think that cannot happen in Alaska. Pollution in Alaska salmon runs or disruptive infrastructure can devastate a salmon run. Are we doing enough to protect our salmon? This initiative would certainly help secure our salmon’s future.

To view the legislation, including the mark-ups that show what the Alaska Supreme Court ruled out, visit: https://goo.gl/XTsRNE and give the proposed legislation a read before you vote in the Nov. 6 general election.

The last day to register for the general election is Oct. 7.

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Sept. 29, 2018

Anchorage Daily News: The Alaska Permanent Fund’s forecast is looking up, but that shouldn’t let candidates for governor off the hook.

The news was good for the Alaska Permanent Fund this week as the corporation that manages the state’s massive sovereign wealth account held its annual meeting. At the end of the last fiscal year, the fund had grown to a record breaking sum of $65.4 billion (as of July 31, it had grown even more, to an unaudited total of $66.2 billion). What’s more, the price of the oil that fuels the fund’s growth is continuing its long recovery, and this week moved above $80 per barrel for the first time since November 2014. If the price of oil stays high and production doesn’t slide, Alaska next year could have something residents haven’t seen in almost half a decade: A balanced budget.

There’s no question that high oil prices are good news for Alaska. Even when oil prices collapsed to less than $30 per barrel, revenue from oil was one of the chief contributors to the state’s bottom line. With prices above $75 per barrel, that is even more the case, and new discoveries and developments on the North Slope indicate it’s likely to remain so for years to come. Alaska’s economic health is still closely tied to the price of its mineral resources.

It’s understandably tempting for Alaskans — and especially gubernatorial candidates — to revert to the mentality they enjoyed prior to the oil price collapse of late 2014 and 2015. Before the slump and subsequent recession began, few were seriously discussing how to provide state services in the event that oil couldn’t cover all the state’s fiscal needs. The time since has been a wake-up call, in which Alaska had the savings — barely — to cover massive deficit spending while the price of oil crept back from the depths. Even if oil stays pricey enough to keep the state in the black during the coming year, we shouldn’t pretend it can’t happen again — and we should take measures to be ready for it when it does.

This doesn’t mean drastically altering the way our state works or the essential services government provides, such as transportation, public safety and education. But it does mean having a plan for what we do if oil dips back to $50 per barrel. Or $40 per barrel. Or $30 per barrel. Every candidate for governor should have such a plan, and be able to articulate it to Alaskans’ satisfaction. As Gov. Bill Walker learned in his first year on the job, sometimes a multibillion-dollar budget deficit immediately follows the election.

Whether the candidates’ solutions to a budget gap include cuts, a reallocation of Permanent Fund revenue, or new revenue measures such as taxes, they owe it to voters to share those plans and demonstrate how they will be effective. Whatever budget path they choose, while oil prices stay high enough to allow for it, they should make an effort to replenish the state’s savings accounts that have been drained by four years of deficit spending.

There is plenty to celebrate in the growing value of the Permanent Fund and the rising price of oil. But it doesn’t absolve our leaders of making plans to address the potential for budget deficits, now that the Achilles heel of Alaska’s economy has been made plain.

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Sept. 28, 2018

Ketchikan Daily News: Alaskans willing to serve

With politics at all levels dominating the news, some things of great importance can get overlooked amidst all the noise.

For example, on Wednesday the Alaska Air National Guard announced that about 20 of its guardsmen are deploying to Iraq as part of the United States’ Operation Inherent Resolve that’s intended to defeat the Islamic State in areas of Iraq and Syria.

That’s approximately 20 Alaskans who soon will be landing in one of the world’s hot spots in service of their country’s policy goals. While 20 isn’t a big number, it’s more than enough to remind us that politics produce policies that affect the rest of us in many ways.

Most of the Alaska Air National Guardsmen involved in the upcoming deployment are “combat rescue officers, pararescuemen, and survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists of the wing’s 212th Rescue Squadron and key support personnel from other wing units,” according to the Alaska Air National Guard.

“Our main job there will be to provide combat search and rescue for American aviators, and soldiers and airmen who might find themselves in harm’s way,” Maj. John Romspert, director of operations for the 212th Rescue Squadron, said in the prepared statement. “Our job is to go rescue them and bring them back.”

Toward the end of the announcement, Romspert made a telling point.

He said that every member of the team being deployed raised a hand to participate in the mission.

“Everyone volunteered,” Romspert said. “They want to serve not only their country, but their state — to do all of their friends and families here proud.”

That’s information of great importance. Among us are Alaskans willing to serve, willing to risk everything, on behalf of their fellow Alaskans and Americans. This willingness continues to be a foundation upon which this nation stands, and without which it cannot survive. We continue to appreciate and thank individuals such as these Alaska Air National Guardsmen who remain willing to serve this nation in so many ways.

We urge the political classes not to take this willingness — and the good will that motivates much of it — for granted.

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