Alaska Newsreader

Today's news for the Last Frontier

June 25, 2008 

Exxon Valdez decision starts the analytical wheels turning. Reaction will develop as the day rolls along, but here are early takes on the Supreme Court's decision this morning to trim the punitive damages significantly.

Bloomberg.com reported that Exxon's shares fell 15 cents on the news, and that the payout represents "about 12 hours of sales for the oil company."

The Wall Street Journal law blog talked with the fishermen's attorney and with the lawyer who filed an amicus brief on "excessiveness" that argued limiting the payout to a 1-1 ratio of punitive-to-compensatory damages.

"We're extremely disappointed that the award was reduced. The idea that knowingly putting a drunk in charge of a supertanker through Prince William Sound, Alaska, over the course of two years is not reprehensible is a ridiculous position to take." - Brian O'Neill for the Valdez plaintiffs

The decision may mean that state courts might now apply more stringent limits on punitive damages than they have previously. - Andy Frey, amicus brief attorney

The Exxon spill by the numbers can be found at KTUU and at the Anchorage Daily News.

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Be careful with that volcano. News that Alaska plans to seek exploration and development of geothermal energy at Mount Spurr got some attention yesterday. Reuters carried the news, noting that the state will hold its lease sale in August, offering 36,000 acres on the south flank of the volcano. The state is also considering a lease sale at Mount Augustine, 171 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The only problem? These volcanoes erupt - Spurr in 1992 and Augustine in 2006. Their heat sources are deep, "in the throat of the volcano," unlike Iceland, where "You can fall down anywhere and find hot water." A UC Davis postdoctoral scholar of volcanoes took notice on his blog, Eruptions: "Now, whether I'd choose volcanoes that are (a) active and (b) potentially violent/explosive in their eruptive style is more questionable..." wrote Dr. Erik Klemetti.

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Take our polar bears, please. Canadian officials were in Washington this week, lobbying for Congress to allow U.S. hunters to continue taking polar bears from Canada, including carrying their trophy skins back into the United States, reports the Associated Press. This is specifically outlawed now that the bears were declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. hunters spend $3 million annually during the North Canadian hunts. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials granted 113 permits to let U.S. hunters to bring the skins home in 2007. Wiping out that income will harm the economies of isolated villages along Canada's Arctic Coast.

Canada.com offers more perspective, including details that the Safari Club International is suing the Bush Administration, claiming it has no jurisdiction. And further underscoring non-U.S. views of polar bears, the Daily Record in Scotland notes that safety officials in Iceland warn against marauding polar bears, surfing over from Greenland on ice islands. Officials have killed two in the past few weeks.

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The draft Palin for VP fan clubs gets another boost. The Alaska Politics blog posted Gov. Sarah Palin's letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking what it would take for the Congress to see ANWR her way. Fan sites rallied, including this one, which also noted that former Sen. Rick Santorum praised Palin as "the most interesting one" in a Politico VP line up that also included Carly Fiorino and Kay Bailey Hutchison. Watch Santorum's video here.

***

Airplanes, Alaska and fuel prices. Two stories popped out today on the ever-growing fuel crisis. The Los Angeles Times travel editor worries that Bush planes will be grounded due to gas prices, "forever changing the character of the state."

The ubiquitous fliers are a key option for travelers seeking access to remote parks and fishing villages. More important, they are the only lifeline to residents of those towns and villages. If they cannot afford to fly, the towns are cut off from supplies and medical care.

Alaska Airlines had already moved to abandon its gas-guzzling MD-80s by year's end, but Aero-news.net announced that the airline would spend $60 million to buy out leases and stop using them much earlier, by Aug. 25.

***

Fairbanks extends energy emergency and ponders letting streetlights go dark. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner has two stories that reflect the urgency of the energy crisis Alaskans face. Borough Mayor Jim Whitiker has asked the Borough Assembly to extend the declared energy emergency they approved in May and waive public-spending rules for a 2-month energy-emergency fund.

Whitaker said he'd use the money on a proposed waste-to-energy pilot project -- one separate from the larger proposed coal plant and to pay an energy consultant and a federal lobbyist. Part of the money would go to pay an energy consultant and federal lobbyist and to fund his office's travel to visit the state capital to discuss energy strategy.

On another front, the city's energy task force looked hard at streetlight costs, realizing that their 2,646 lamps cost $200 a piece to operate and eat up $535,000 of the city's $880,000 annual electric bill. They'll consider timers, lower wattage bulbs and letting some go dark. Police Chief Don Hoffman expressed concern over the affinity of crime to darkness.

On the energy front, if you didn't catch APRN's Talk of the Nation this week, you can hear it online. Dan Fauske, executive director for Alaska Housing Finance Corp., and Cary Boling, an energy specialist with that agency, talked about the crisis facing the state and the $300 million in state money going to weatherization projects that homeowners can tap.

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"Nettlesome" casino bill gets a full House vote in Congress today. Newsreader gave you background on Rep. Don Young's assistance to a Michigan casino bill as the ranking Republican on the Natural Resources Committee.

The Hill says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will allow Michigan's Democratic representative, John Dingall, to take the bill forward today.

Even though it's three years later and Democrats now control the majorities in both chambers of Congress, Young -- now the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee -- and Dingell are continuing to work together to push the measure over a final finish line.

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Pork versus principle defines the Parnell/Young battle for Congress. Noting that Don Young is not a politician to be crossed lightly, the American Spectator takes a close look at the Sean Parnell/Don Young slugfest for Alaska's sole seat in the House of Representatives. The long and colorful story plays up Young's bravado but notes that voter attitudes may be changing.

Young hopes his prodigious earmarking will have bought the voters' loyalty if not love. Parnell is betting that the incumbent's big-spending ways will come back to bite him.

***

Vote with your fork. That was the message when Trout Unlimited brought last year's frozen salmon catch from Bristol Bay to an Oregon market for tasting, reports The Oregonian.

Organizers want to both market Bristol Bay wild salmon and head off a proposal by a Canadian company to locate one of the largest open pit gold and copper mines in North America at the headwaters of two river drainages feeding the bay.

"This is consumer-driven activism," said Ben Blakey, a 26-year-old Bristol Bay fisherman and graduate of Lewis and Clark College. "We want people to buy it, eat it, enjoy it, and then want to maintain it," Blakey said. "Mostly the goal is to get the name Bristol Bay and the Pebble Mine out there in front of consumers."

In California, where salmon fisheries collapsed this year, the California Farm Bureau Federation reports that farmers and fisheries managers are now fighting over water as a resource. Farmers say they need it for their fields, and fisheries managers say they need more of it flowing in rivers to help salmon survive.

Other headlines of interest to Alaskans:

> Alaska hires firm to assess energy infrastructure (Associated Press)

> Mitsubishi joins Alaska gas line, LNG project (Energy Current)

> Alaska changes property and casualty insurance testing (Insurance Journal)

> Russia plans Arctic military training exercises (Associated Press)

> Are Senate races moving in one direction? (Real Clear Politics.com)

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