Prepping to fight Shell Oil production: Biologists commence study of Chukchi Sea life

Photo credit: thomas toohey brown

A group of researchers has embarked on the first comprehensive study of marine life in the eastern Chukchi Sea near Alaska. Their findings will be used by the Department of the Interior to help decide whether to grant future leases for offshore oil exploration and drilling in the region, and to regulate transportation and future fishing.

“We are going up there to look at the oceanography, plankton, fish and crab in the region,” said Michael Sigler, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service in Alaska.

Little baseline data has been collected in the region, which is currently little-trafficked and fished due to its remoteness and its ice-choked waters. As ice cover throughout the Arctic decreases, however, these pursuits are likely to increase.

Although surveys have been conducted in both the Beaufort and Chukchi seas since 1959, U.S. fishery research in the Arctic has been infrequent and limited in scope, according to a statement from NOAA. A similarly comprehensive survey of the northern Bering Sea was not conducted until 2010. [Images: Creatures of the Bering Sea]

The new study is primarily meant to gather data for scientists and to avoid negative impacts of oil exploration in the region, Sigler told OurAmazingPlanet. (Royal Dutch Shell has been granted a lease to drill exploratory wells in the area, and the company hopes to begin in the next few weeks, according to the Reuters news service.)

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Ballot Measure 2: ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’


Photo credit: bdearth

Alaskans will find a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ at the voting booth on August 28th. Ballot Measure 2, the ‘Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program’ (ACZMP) is bad for Alaska!

State versus Federal control is how Ballot Measure 2 is being marketed, but if Alaskans adopt this highly flawed and convoluted Coastal Management Program, who actually gains control?

Measure 2’s sponsor, deceptively named the ”Alaska Sea Party,” argues for state control but their ACZMP is simply an extension of Federal anti-development laws, so what difference would that make? Most conservatives would agree conceptually with state control, but serious problems are presented by this 700+ word initiative, the longest and most complex ever to go before the Alaskan voters.

The Juneau-based Alaska Sea Party’s initiative is advertised as an expanded version of the prior sunsetted Coastal Management Program but really bears little resemblance to it (more on this later). This new version accommodates special interests and adds additional layers of unnecessary bureaucracy to an already complex permitting process — more red tape to effectively delay or prevent permitting for many projects beneficial to Alaskans. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The initiative creates the ‘Alaska Coastal Policy Board,’ consisting of thirteen Governor-appointed members, nine nominated from coastal regions and 4 from state agencies. This may sound reasonable until you realize that veto-proof control would be in the hands of powerful unelected board members unaccountable to the voters. Furthermore, board members would not be required to have any technical or permitting knowledge; rather, they are simply “nominated” by region. ‘Representation’ on the Alaska Coastal Policy Board would result in only two board members voting for three quarters of our state’s population. Or put another way, an overwhelming majority of the board members voting would represent only one quarter of Alaska’s population.

This power shift is made crystal clear when you realize that Anchorage and the Mat-Su combined get one single vote. Nome and its neighboring villages also get one vote. Fairbanks and the Interior get zero votes. But this new board has broad new statewide powers to set statewide resource development policy, even though it would be controlled by a minority of the state’s population. Out-of-control big government and special interest politics is ripening on the vine in the form of Ballot Measure 2.

So what’s the history behind the initiative? In 1972, Congress attempted to address the challenge of continued growth in coastal zones by passing the Coastal Zone Management Act. The Act was administered by NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. In 1977, Congress approved Alaska’s first Coastal Zone Management Program. In 2003, the Murkowski Administration pushed through major reforms and added a sunset date to the program. This required the Legislature to either amend or re-authorize the (ACZMP). The program expired in 2011 after a failed compromise advanced by Democrats was rejected by Governor Parnell. Ballot Measure 2 is being pushed in the wake of Legislative inaction, and closely mirrors the legislation advanced by Democrats in June 2011.

The bottom line is that we can and must do better for our children’s future. A Coastal Management Program must be constructed fairly and clearly in order to truly benefit the people of Alaska. We must not paint ourselves into a corner by passing this initiative. Remember, initiatives such as Ballot Measure 2 are veto-proof for two years and are virtually impossible to amend. Measure 2 is bad law and must be rejected by voting No on 2, August 28th.

Tentative oil plan for Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve

The U.S. Interior Department opened the door to the possibility of an oil pipeline across the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and to oil and gas leasing on 11.8 million acres of it.

The draft development proposal unveiled Monday by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar represents the federal government’s first coordinated plan for the 22-million-acre reserve, which has seen limited oil production in recent years despite controversy over potential threats to wildlife.

The reserve, which lies west of the oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope, is home to the famous Western Arctic caribou herd, numbering about 325,000, and a smaller herd of 45,000 caribou that migrates near Teshekpuk Lake.

The largest single block of public land in the country, the reserve contains an estimated 549 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The compromise plan — unveiled after a long study that collected more than 400,000 public comments — would continue to protect some of the most ecologically sensitive areas, including Teshekpuk Lake, home to tens of thousands of geese and brant that migrate to the far north during sunny Arctic summers.

Read more from this story HERE.

Coast Guard cutter catches Chinese “pirate ship”, but turns over crooks to … Chinese!

Photo credit: mikebaird

The high-seas driftnetter the U.S. Coast Guard chased across the North Pacific Ocean has been turned over to Chinese Fishery Law Enforcement.

The crew from the Hawaii-based cutter Rush, which had been patrolling Alaska waters, boarded the ship, identified as the Da Cheng, just over two weeks ago and found 30 metric tons of illegally-caught albacore tuna and six metric tons of shark and shark fin on board.

While in Kodiak, Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp called the 177-foot gillnetter a pirate ship, prompting Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu to call for prosecution of not only the crew, but of the illegal seafood’s buyers.

High seas driftnetting has been outlawed by international treaty for 20 years. The 10-mile nets the Da Cheng and other illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing boats efficiently catch tuna, but also scoop up everything in their path. Some nets are lost and drift for years, killing thousands of fish.

Read more from this story HERE.

Decision: Palin will not speak at the GOP Convention in Tampa

Former U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Sunday said she will not speak at the Republican National Convention in Florida later this month, saying she will instead focus on rallying in support of candidates for the U.S. Congress.

Palin, 48, who previously served as the Governor of Alaska and was U.S. Senator John McCain’s vice presidential nominee during the 2008 presidential elections, said she continues to support Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his newly announced running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan.

“This year is a good opportunity for other voices to speak at the convention and I’m excited to hear them,” Palin said in a brief statement distributed by Fox News. “As I’ve repeatedly said, I support Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in their efforts to replace President Obama at the ballot box, and I intend to focus on grassroots efforts to rally Independents and the GOP base to elect Senate and House members so a wise Congress is ready to work with our new President to get our country back on the right path.”

She added: “Everything I said at the 2008 convention about then-candidate Obama still stands today, and in fact the predictions made about the very unqualified and inexperienced Community Organizer’s plans to ‘fundamentally transform’ our country are unfortunately coming true.”

The Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa, Florida, between August 27 and August 30 and will feature a number of high-profile Republican figures as speakers. Among those confirmed to be speakers are former presidential candidates John McCain and Rick Santorum. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will also speak.

Read more from this story HERE.

Alaska: the next Libor litigation frontier?


Photo credit: dullhunk

The Libor scandal, which began in London with bankers accused of manipulating a key global interest rate, has reached the Alaskan wilderness.

Or at least that’s the hope of New York plaintiffs’ lawyer Brian Murray. He filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of investors in Alaska – as well as investors in Wyoming, North Dakota and about 20 other states – that accuses banks of violating various state antitrust laws in allegedly rigging the London interbank offered rate.

Libor is a key rate for everything from credit cards to trillions of dollars of financial derivatives.

So far, Murray says, no Alaskans have signed on to the case, and it’s unclear how many people in the state may have been affected by the alleged rate manipulation. His lawsuit contends that investors in certain preferred securities were shortchanged on dividend payments when banks set Libor artificially low.

Murray, a partner at the law firm Murray Frank, says he’s also looking for clients in the other states, though to date he has only signed on investors from New York.

Read more from this story HERE.

University of Alaska Alumnus Wins Olympic Medal in London

Alaska Nanooks rifle alumnus Matt Emmons (Mt. Holly, N.J.) overcame misfires in his two previous Olympic apperances to capture bronze and his first Olympic medal in the men’s 50-meter three position shooting event on Monday.

While he missed out on a silver medal with an off-center final shot, Emmons was pleased to add another Olympic medal to his career collection and to represent his team and country on the podium.

“It’s never over until it’s over,” Emmons said. “Anytime you can be on the podium at the Olympics is a pretty cool thing. After the last shot I looked down and thought ‘hey, I got bronze, cool’.”

Emmons, who was a Nanook from 1999-2003, was second heading into the last of 10 shots in the eight-man final and a 8.9 would have clinched the silver for him. In two previous Olympics the former Nanook had missed gold medals in the same event with tragic final shots that included a cross fire to the target a lane over and a premature misfire. This time he hit his own target but missed the center ring.

“I knew it was low and to the right. I just didn’t know how far because I was shaking so much,” said Emmons.

Read more from this story HERE.

God determines your sex … but not on an Alaskan driver’s license

Photo credit: Jason Hargrove

New regulations are set to take effect in Alaska that will allow transgender drivers to change the sex designation on their drivers’ licenses.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state on behalf of a transgender woman. The lawsuit alleged the woman, identified only as K.L., was denied a driver’s license listing her gender as female unless she provided proof she’d undergone a sex change operation. ACLU went to court to appeal an administrative ruling in the case.

Earlier this year, in March, Superior Court Judge Michael Spann ordered the Division of Motor Vehicles to adopt a new regulation. He did not suggest the form or scope of the regulation but advised DMV to take into consideration the “constitutional implications” that such a regulation might have on the right to privacy and protection of “sensitive personal information.” He allowed 180 days for the state to comply.

ACLU worked with the state in crafting the regulation, which underwent public comment. The regulation will still require proof for the change in sex designation but in the form of a licensed provider certifying he or she has been involved in the person’s case and expects the change in description to be permanent.

Whitney Brewster, director of the Division of Motor Vehicles, said Thursday that hopefully this will be a fairly easy process to follow. The division plans to provide a form that will need to be filled out.

Read more from this story HERE.

U.S. Chamber: Law of the Sea Treaty Will Pass

The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce– the nation’s premier group representing business interests — said Thursday that he believes the U.S. Senate will pass the Law of the Sea Treaty during its next session.

Despite Tom Donahue’s prediction, the international treaty has been languishing in the Senate for three decades. Just last month, a total of 34 Republican senators went on record as opposing the treaty — and since a two-thirds vote of the Senate is needed to pass it, the treaty seemed as dead as ever.

Donahue told a breakfast of the American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, that he believes some of those Republicans will change their minds, although it’s hard for them to align themselves with the nation’s top Democrat during a presidential election year.

According to Donahue, passing the treaty is vital to America’s economic and security interests. He says that without it, the United States will not have a seat at the table when it comes to developing offshore oil and gas beyond its 200-mile territorial limit.

Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski both welcomed the news, although a spokesperson for Begich seemed doubtful that Republicans could manage such an about-face.

But Murkowski, a moderate Republican, said she thought such a turnaround could indeed take place. She says that modifcations to the treaty have made it a much better deal for the U.S., and that it would be foolish for the U.S. not to adopt the updated version of the treaty.

“We have been doing serious mapping off the coast of Alaska off our northern waters,” Murkowski said. “And (the treaty provides) the opportunity to claim an area about the size of the state of California, that we could effectively annex as part of an area that would be able to control.”

More conservative Republicans disagree including Joe Miller, Murkowski’s former rival for her Senate seat.

“To transfer two-thirds of the earth’s surface over to the governance of the United Nations is just a crazy thought,” Miller said Thursday. “And whether or not there’s some short-term economic benefit, (it) is a terrible thing to do, if you love this country and are really supporting its continued sovereignty.”

Read more from this story HERE.

Sen. Mark Begich: I’m worried about Joe Miller & the entire national right-wing attack machine

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Sen. Mark Begich is worried about Joe Miller and “the entire national right-wing attack machine.” Those are words he used in a recent letter soliciting funds for his 2014 reelection bid. Instead of starting with his positions on current issues and a list of his accomplishments, Begich devoted the first dozen sentences of the letter to how his opposition is preparing to take him down. But the underlying message in this uninspiring introduction is how the commercialization of our society is corrupting our democratic process.

As a Democrat in a Republican leaning state, Begich knows he’ll likely be the underdog in the race to retain his U.S. Senate seat. What will make his battle more difficult, he says, is that the GOP will be “spending millions of Washington dollars to distort [his] record and promote Joe Miller.” It’s a scenario he should be partly familiar with because that’s how the Democrats helped him four years ago while the FBI was investigating possible corruption by the late Sen. Ted Stevens. And just as he claims the GOP at the national level doesn’t “care about what’s important to Alaskans,” the D.C. Democrats back then didn’t either.

What will be different in his 2014 race is how campaign money will come into the state from undisclosed sources. That’s because the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case equated political contributions with free speech. The transparency problem created by the ruling could have been corrected before the election that year. Indeed, the Supreme Court actually advised Congress to pass new legislation that would have required sufficient disclosure so the voting public could determine which candidates might wind up beholden to special interests. But Senate Republicans defeated such a bill crafted by Democrats in 2010 and more recently shot down a similar proposal.

Begich may be sounding early alarm bells because Alaskans really won’t see much of the effect of Citizens United in this year’s national elections. But around the rest of the country, billionaires, large corporations and every other well financed special interest group are prepared to spend enormous sums of money to influence the outcome of other races. And while political analysts believe Republicans will benefit most from the lack of transparency in campaign spending, blaming them for the deterioration of our democratic process is too easy. There are other entities who for decades have been contributing of demise of our electoral politics.

Let’s start with the advertising industry. They’re drooling at the prospect of revenue from record breaking spending this year. It would be one thing if they were hired to honestly portray a candidate’s record and position on the issues. But the vast majority of their television and radio ads will be totally void of substance. Worse yet, the most effective ones are often those that slyly distort the truth. In other words, the most sought after advertisers are those who can legally deceive most of the people most of the time. New York Times columnist David Brooks put it this way — “the ad-makers now take dishonesty as a mark of their professional toughness.”

Read more from this story HERE.