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Alaska editorials

November 19, 2018

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:

Nov. 16, 2018

Ketchikan Daily News: The right direction

Encouraging news was heard from British Columbia this past week.

The B.C. provincial government on Nov. 6 published a request for proposals from private contractors to clean up the Tulsequah Chief Mine site that has been releasing acid drainage into the Taku River north of Juneau since 1957.

The B.C. government’s involvement follows years of private industry’s unfortunate inability to adequately address the situation, and requests by tribes and many others — including Alaska Gov. Bill Walker — on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border for action toward a solution.

There’s no guarantee that British Columbia’s step toward responsibility will result in a remedy, but it should be an encouraging sign for Southeast Alaskans who reside, work, harvest and recreate downriver from the Tulsequah Chief mine site.

Northern British Columbia is criss-crossed by existing mines and many more potential mine sites, some of which could affect rivers that flow into Southeast Alaska.

Concerns that Canada is not addressing adequately the risks of mine failure and potential effects on Southeast Alaska have grown in recent years — exacerbated by non-action on the Tulsequah Chief situation and the 2014 breach of the tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine incidents.

Southeast Alaska and British Columbia have a huge interest in ensuring that mineral resource development in B.C. is accomplished with minimal risks to all concerned. The provincial government appears to be taking this seriously, which is good news.

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Nov. 18, 2018

Anchorage Daily News: Alaska’s mental health crisis is at the heart of the state’s issues

There can be no doubt that Alaska’s mental health care system is in crisis, struggling to cope with some of the greatest gaps in capacity and coverage in decades. At the state’s flagship Alaska Psychiatric Institute, almost half the rooms are empty, a problem that has persisted for several years. The consequences are tremendous, and damaging at both the personal and societal scales. And although Alaska is facing a host of pressing issues — a substantial budget deficit, the future of the Permanent Fund dividend and nation-highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault — the state’s mental health services may be the most glaring, broken system facing Alaska. Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy and the Legislature should make addressing it a top priority.

It’s not as though this is a new problem for the state. For years, the ADN’s reporters and columnist Charles Wohlforth have examined the breakdowns and failures that have led us to where we are today. But despite the acknowledged severity of the issues, which led to the September resignations of major figures charged with overseeing the state’s system, there has been little progress made — in fact, it’s easy to make the argument that things are worse now than at any point in recent memory. At least a half-dozen patients committed to the state’s care for mental health issues were sent to prison because of capacity problems at API. When patient treatment begins to resemble the “warehousing” model of asylums, there can be no denying that serious problems exist and must be addressed immediately.

So what has caused the degradation of Alaska’s mental health services? There are many factors, but two primary ones stand out: organizational and managerial failures, as well as tight budgets. Although the state has tried to address organizational issues, most recently through the aforementioned resignations, there is little to show for the periodic shakeups: API’s issues have persisted for years. Also, the past two decades have seen atrophy in Alaska’s community mental health services, which has the compounding effect of increasing the burden on API, as well as on hospitals and other care facilities not designed for chronic mental health treatment.

The failures within Alaska’s mental health care system are not only distressing with regard to our goal of helping those in need of services to maintain their health and dignity, they are tremendously costly to our state. Facilities such as hospitals and prisons, which have neither the capacity nor the mission to provide chronic, long-term mental health care, are being pressed into service. The half-operative API can’t come near addressing the mental health needs of Anchorage’s population, much less the many remote communities without such services. As a result, those with unaddressed mental health issues often experience homelessness, and some are the perpetrators and victims of crimes. They are more likely to abuse substances because of their unmet health needs. All of these factors drive other major, expensive problems our state is struggling to address.

What can and should be done to turn things around? The Alaska Mental Health Trust has a role to play. Although the group does not have the resources to stand up community mental health services on its own, it can and should be the intermediary between the state and potential providers, identifying the roadblocks that have caused the failure of community services and working with state policymakers to address them.

For its part, the state must do everything in its power to get API running at full capacity. The facility has 80 beds; at last count, only 45 were occupied because of staff shortages. Incoming Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his Commissioner of Health and Social Services should make it a top priority to make sure the facility is fully staffed and that previous safety issues have been addressed, issuing an emergency declaration if necessary. In the longer term, the state must work to facilitate the expansion of community mental health services, so that patients can receive treatment in their home communities and be supported by those who love and care for them.

It is a moral imperative that we do better for Alaskans in need of mental health services. Our system is broken, and we have been reaping the consequences. We have felt their tremendous toll on all of our communities. We can abide the status quo no longer.

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Nov. 18, 2018

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Trump’s tweets and the oil market

Oil prices are ever the double-edged sword for Alaska. When the price of crude oil is up, Alaska’s oil-based economy benefits and the state coffers fill up. But alas, the price of heating fuel and gasoline surge, too. When the oil price is down, Alaska’s economy takes a dive along with the gas prices.

Alaska is an oil state.

President Donald Trump tweeted this on Nov. 12: “Hopefully, Saudi Arabia and OPEC will not be cutting oil production. Oil prices should be much lower based on supply!”

Nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s state budget is derived from oil revenues. The last thing this state needs is for oil prices to tumble further than they already have. The price of Alaska crude oil fell from $81.86 per barrel on Oct. 1 to $66.33 on Wednesday. The benchmark West Texas Intermediate and international crude oil prices have experienced comparable drops during the same time.

Perhaps Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, should remind President Trump that low oil prices can hurt a state such as Alaska. Oil prices do not only affect the price at the pump. Alaska jobs, the economy, and state government are all powered by oil revenue.

Could President Trump’s tweets — often reactionary, incendiary and confrontational — have an impact on oil prices? He is the most powerful man in the world and his words, even if they are ridiculous at times, hold sway.

Matt Badiali, an oil market analyst at the Banyan Hill investment firm, believes President Trump’s words can affect the price of oil.

“We’re seeing the fundamentals drive the long-term trend, but sure, oil prices are going to move up and down in the short term to different drivers. And Donald Trump is just the most vocal U.S. president, so certainly he’s going to have an influence,.” Mr. Badiali told Houston Public Media last week.

This is not the first time President Trump has tweeted about oil prices being inflated and overpriced during the last couple months. His Twitter demands may be backfiring by spurring OPEC officials to withhold supply to spite him. In September, Hossein Kazempour, Iran’s OPEC representative, told CNBC: “If they kept quiet, the prices would be cheaper, I am confident about that. I am telling him (Trump), ‘keep quiet, do not do any tweets, and then you will be better off in the prices.’”

It would be difficult to quantify how exactly the president’s tweets are affecting the price of oil. But oil prices keep dropping, and his Twitter demands for lower oil prices keep coming. It sends the wrong message to Alaska.

Perhaps President Trump should ignore his phone and let the free market guide the price of oil. The oil market is volatile enough without his tweets.

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