Elwood Brehmer

Budget talks underway, but no fiscal plan

The end of the legislative session is shaping up to be fairly anticlimactic as House and Senate leaders have begun negotiating the finer points of the $4.5 billion operating budget this week. 

The budget conference committee began meeting April 14, and while the 90th day of the session quietly came and went April 16, there is a general feeling the Legislature will wrap up soon. 

AGDC chief recaps visit from Chinese delegation as funding unresolved

State officials leading the $43 billion Alaska LNG Project touted a productive visit from potential Chinese partners in the project while funding for the effort remains unresolved in the Legislature.

Latest fish habitat bill goes too far, or not far enough

A new version of legislation to revamp Alaska’s salmon habitat permitting system is aimed at increasing public involvement and the ability of regulators to impose penalties for noncompliance.

The bill’s author, Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes, said the second iteration of House Bill 199 is the result of months of talks with stakeholders and what she believes to be an effective balance of fish protections while still allowing responsible development projects to go forward.

Pebble owners working to refine economics of smaller plan

Pebble Limited Partnership has filed with federal regulators for the key environmental permits for the company’s proposed mine, but whether or not the hotly contested project is economically viable remains unclear, at least publicly.

Pebble CEO Tom Collier said in an April 9 interview that the junior mining company plans to change that by the end of the year, if not sooner, by publishing a preliminary economic assessment, or PEA, for its new mine plan.

Budget consensus forms near session end

How quickly things can change.

Despite the House passing the operating budget over to the Senate about three weeks later than planned after getting bogged down in lengthy debates over the size of this year’s Permanent Fund dividends, legislative leaders are now again talking about wrapping the session up soon — likely totaling just a little more than 90 days in Juneau this year.

That’s because Senate Republicans appear to have generally conceded to the Democrat-led House Majority coalition on the size of this year’s operating budget.

Alaska Railroad returned to profitability in 2017

The Alaska Railroad was back in the black in 2017 with a $22.4 million profit after 2016 saw its first net loss in more than 15 years.

The state-owned railroad corporation increased its overall revenue by 13 percent last year while cutting expenses by 3 percent, according to its 2017 Annual Report issued April 2.

Alaska Railroad CEO Bill O’Leary said the improved financials are the result of the railroad’s resolve to forge ahead through making difficult but necessary decisions.

Corps of Engineers extends Pebble scoping period

Stakeholders who want to weigh in on the potential impacts of the Pebble mine project will have two more months to do so.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District announced Friday morning that it will be extending the public scoping period to 90 days from the statutory minimum of 30 days for the project’s environmental impact statement, or EIS.

Tourism group looks inward to replace state funding cuts

The leaders of Alaska’s largest travel industry trade group are looking for ways to fill a void in their marketing budget left from budget cuts by lawmakers.

The tourism industry has been a bright spot in an otherwise struggling Alaska economy of late, growing consistently along with the national economy over the past decade since the 2008 financial crisis. Historically, about 85 percent of Alaska visitors come from the Lower 48.

Messy House vote on budget a prelude to extended session

The House finally managed to pass the state’s operating budget April 2 with money for $1,600 Permanent Fund dividends, but the three weeks of messy debate leading up to the vote were likely more of a preamble to what’s in store for the remainder of the legislative session than a resolution to the big issues of the day.

The $4.5 billion unrestricted General Fund budget passed by the slimmest of margins on a 21-19 vote, with majority coalition member Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, breaking from her caucus and voting against the budget.

Federal tax cut boosts BP’s Alaska bottom line by $500M

BP netted $830 million from its North Slope operations in 2017 but the company’s Alaska leaders contend the net income figure shrinks to $118 million when all of the work it does in the state is factored in against a backdrop of $543 million in taxes and royalties paid to the State of Alaska.

Most of the $830 million in upstream Alaska profits reported March 29 — on the back of $3.2 billion in operating revenue — is due to a roughly $500 million federal corporate tax accounting benefit stemming from the tax reform Congress passed in December.

ConocoPhillips gets good news on second NPR-A project

ConocoPhillips received good news March 22 when the Bureau of Land Management announced it had finished a long-awaited draft of the environmental impact statement for one of the company’s oil developments in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Publication of the draft supplemental EIS for the Greater Mooses Tooth-2 project means ConocoPhillips could sanction the roughly $1 billion development later this year if BLM issues the company a favorable record of decision, according to ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman.

Delegation divides over $1.3T omnibus spending bill

Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation was split during voting on the $1.3 trillion federal spending plan covering the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski touted the omnibus appropriations bill in a press release as doing far more for Alaska than simply keeping the lights on in federal offices across the state.

Oil tax credit bill moves on to Senate Finance

Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to end the state’s roughly $800 million obligation to small oil and gas industry companies is suddenly on the move.

The Senate Resources Committee quickly moved Senate Bill 176 out of committee March 23 with little fanfare, particularly given the consternation the oil and gas tax credit program has stirred in the capitol the past couple years.

AGDC gets help soliciting investors for LNG Project

The Alaska Gasline Development Corp. has secured two of the world’s largest banks to help raise funds for the $43 billion Alaska LNG Project.

Goldman Sachs and the Bank of China will assist AGDC in raising multiple rounds of debt and equity investment, according to a late announcement March 27 from the state-owned corporation.

Corps of Engineers releases two-year schedule for Pebble EIS

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking to fast-track the environmental review of the proposed Pebble mine and the project’s opponents, to put it mildly, aren’t happy about it.

The Corps released a schedule March 20 of roughly two years to complete the Pebble environmental impact statement, or EIS, and reach a record of decision on the project.

A 30-day scoping period, in which the public can submit comments to the Corps regarding what they believe should be evaluated for potential impacts from the project, is set to start April 1.

Legislators on all sides concerned about receipt authority for AGDC

Gov. Bill Walker’s administration is not asking for more state funding to advance the $43 billion Alaska LNG Project, but some legislators are concerned allowing the gasline developers to accept outside money could sign away much of their remaining control over the project.

Included in the governor’s 2019 fiscal year budget proposal is language giving the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. the authority to accept third-party funds from potential Alaska LNG investors. The provision would cover the remaining months of fiscal year 2018, which ends June 30, and fiscal year 2019.

Southcentral community leaders want in on AKLNG site selection studies

Nearly five years after Nikiski was chosen as the terminus for the $43 billion Alaska LNG Project, the leaders of other Southcentral communities are now questioning the process behind that decision.

On Jan. 9, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough sought intervener status in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s drafting of an environmental impact statement, or EIS, for the Alaska LNG Project.

Oil legislation could come off the back burner in a budget deal

Bills to raise oil taxes and pay off the state’s $800 million refundable tax credit obligation have stalled for weeks but legislators say both could be part of what is sure to be a strenuous lift at the end of a session in which the festering $2.5 billion annual deficits are coming to a head.

House Resources Committee co-chair Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, said during a Majority Coalition press briefing that House Bill 288, which would raise the minimum production tax, could be part of a package of legislation to settle end-of-session negotiations with the Republican Senate.

Revenue forecast up on oil prices, but production short of forecast

Income will be up but oil production will be down, according to the state’s Spring Revenue Forecast released March 16.

Department of Revenue officials project the State of Alaska will take in roughly $2.3 billion in unrestricted General Fund revenue during the current 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, which would be an increase of $256 million and $212 million per year, respectively, from the financial forecast issued last fall.

A new state fiscal year starts each July 1.

As habitat initiative debate swirls, ADFG outlines current best practices

The Alaska Supreme Court will still have its say, but there’s a good chance voters will be asked whether or not the state should overhaul its permitting regime for construction projects impacting salmon habitat.

It’s the latest battle in the ongoing debate over how far the state should go to protect its prized fish resources while at the same time promoting development of the state’s renowned petroleum and mineral resources.

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