OPINION: Don’t call them Democrats

The Alaska Democratic Party is calling “bullshit” on winners of the Democratic primary being affiliated with the Democratic Party on the November ballot. Apparently the party’s brand in Alaska is so bad that its leadership doesn’t want its candidates to actually be associated with it. The latest outrageous outrage involves a simple change on the general election ballot that has removed the official party affiliation, or lack thereof, of all candidates and instead shows their name and whether they made the ballot through the Republican or Democratic primary or through the petition process. Republicans aren’t complaining about the change because candidates over the years have often adopted the “R” designation in order to have a better chance to win. That’s why the party’s elected representatives range across the ideological spectrum from Sen. Gary Stevens to Rep. David Eastman while Democrats range from Sen. Bill Wielechowsi to, well, Bill Wielechowski. Democratic Party Executive Director Lindsay Kavanaugh pitched a fit over the change revealed Sept. 14 on the Division of Elections website, calling it “unconscionable.” “I am increasingly concerned about the ability of the Lt. Governor to make informed, unbiased, decisions about the election, and of the integrity of those running the DOE,” Kavanaugh told the Anchorage Daily News. “Alaska voters, especially the majority of those voters who are undeclared and non-partisan, need to call bullshit.” Kavanaugh shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for an uprising from those undeclared voters. Yes, Alaska’s voters are famously averse to aligning with either political party. They are also among the most consistent Republican voters in the country. The state hasn’t chosen a Democrat for president since LBJ in 1964 and has only sent two Democrats to Congress in the last 50 years with both of them named Begich. While many state Democrats are pro-resource development and favor gun rights, the national party is rabidly anti-Alaska and anti-Second Amendment. Alaska voters have long since figured this out and vote for national offices accordingly regardless of how they choose to register their party status. Defeat after defeat for national office has led the state Democrats to adopt a recent strategy of claiming “independent” status and our two congressional races this year reflect that with Al Gross and Alyse Galvin taking on incumbents Sen. Dan Sullivan and Dean of the House Rep. Don Young. Despite clearly favoring the politics of the Democrats and soliciting their financial support, the Democratic Party wants Gross and Galvin to have a “U” or an “N” next to their names in a transparent attempt to convince voters they aren’t filling the oval with a choice that will keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and/or hand over the Senate to Chuck Schumer. The House under Pelosi has already voted to overturn development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, and Democrats are talking about ending the filibuster should they retake the Senate. That means Galvin and Gross would help enact disastrous policies for Alaska no matter how they classify their political status. Republicans, especially in the Senate, routinely break ranks to vote independently (look no further than Sens. Mitt Romney, our own Lisa Murkowski or Rand Paul for examples), but there is no such freedom on the Democrat side where even their most endangered member Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama never dares to cross Schumer. To think that Galvin will vote against Pelosi as the 435th-ranked member of the House or that Gross will take the Democrats’ money and then vote to uphold the filibuster are huge gambles Alaskans will be rightly hesitant to take no matter what letter follows their names. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Can technology make flying feel safe again?

Across the world, the aviation industry is scrambling to find ways to keep the COVID-19 risk out of airplanes with high-tech filtration and advanced cleaning. American Airlines has partnered with medical advisers at Vanderbilt University and its competitors have made similar moves. Every airline is requiring masks. Southwest Airlines has adopted the “Southwest Promise,” which includes limiting capacity on flights to allow passengers to social distance. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to turn the airline industry upside down with no end in sight, suppliers are preparing for the inevitable future where cleanliness and germ-fighting is a high priority for customers. North Texas manufacturer Aereos thinks antimicrobial plastics may be one solution to help cut the risk of spreading COVID-19 on commercial airline flights. And Dallas-based Allied BioScience has gotten government approval to spray a disinfectant coating in planes that’s billed as killing germs for up to a week. With commercial air traffic still at historic lows and passengers continually wary of flying, Aereos says it has brought antimicrobial technology to high-touch surfaces inside commercial jetliners, such as tray tables, armrests, door handles and toilets. The antimicrobial technology can cut down on the growth of germs and virus such as COVID-19, Aereos partner David Baker said. “It’s just starting to catch a lot of interest,” said Baker, whose company recently released the line. “Especially considering that it’s a pandemic, it’s one way of making them feel comfortable. This provides them with a layer of protection.” Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Allied BioScience received emergency approval last month from the Environmental Protection Agency for a spray-on coating product that is intended to protect against COVID-19 and other germs for at least a week. The perception of heightened cleaning and hygiene on commercial aircraft is a “huge deal” to consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jamie Larounis, a travel consultant and writer for Upgradedpoints.com. “This, in combination with social distancing efforts, is what is building consumer confidence that the airlines are doing their part to provide a safe experience,” Larounis said. It’s unclear how much of the novel coronavirus is spread via surfaces, but airlines are still touting enhanced cleaning procedures along with state-of-the-art air filtering technologies, face masks and social distancing. Companies are experimenting with ultraviolet lighting to help kill COVID-19 and Southwest is testing thermal imaging cameras to detect fevers among passengers. “The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Aereos, based in Euless, makes replacement interior airplane parts and custom cabin items, such as tray tables, latches, toilet seats and window shades along with carts and other items used by flight attendants. Baker said the company started experimenting with antimicrobial additives on those parts in May and has them ready for sale to airlines looking to replace aircraft parts. Aereos makes the parts at its North Texas manufacturing facility. The company also does work in the aerospace sector in maintenance, overhaul and defense, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created problems for nearly every corner of the airline industry, Baker said. The antimicrobial technology has grown popular over the last decade in hospitals to cut down on infections and in some medical supplies and devices. The plastics don’t completely kill viruses such as COVID-19 on contact but instead work to inhibit the growth of viruses and germs, slowing down the life of contagions. “Current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials,” according to the CDC’s website. That leaves airlines, airports and even government agencies working to reduce touch points during the air travel experience at security screening points, at gates and on airplanes, evidence at least that there is concern that touching objects can spread viruses. Baker said he doesn’t have any independent research on how effective the plastics are, but tests within the company have been promising. “Very little had to be changed about what we do, and it essentially costs nothing extra,” Baker said. “We don’t expect airlines to go out and replace every single part, but you could start replacing parts as they break or on an airplane one at a time until your whole fleet is done.”

Movers and Shakers for Sept. 20

PND Engineers Inc. in Anchorage announced three hires. Tanner Stephens joined PND’s civil team in Anchorage in March following a year as a project engineer with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Department of Design and Construction. At PND, he has been working on the California Creek Fish Passage and Connecting Anchorage Trails projects. Stephens earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with a minor in mathematics from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2019. Previously a project engineer and design engineer for the Alaska Department of Transportation, Addison Yang’s projects since joining PND have included a Washington Department of Transportation project with Kiewit to replace a culvert under the I-5 highway with a fish passage, while minimizing impact to motorists and the local community. Yang earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2015 and is currently completing his master’s degree remotely. Obadiah “Obi” Dawson, EIT, earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UAA this past spring. His recent assignments include structural calculations for the Wendell Avenue temporary trestle. Cornerstone announced two hires: Brittany Larson as an accountant and Macki McDonald as a project engineer. Both join the company with years of experience in the Alaskan construction industry. Larson joins the team with more than three years of Alaskan construction accounting as well as an extensive customer service background. She is currently in her final semester at Wayland Baptist University to receive her associate’s degree in accounting and will then pursue her bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance. McDonald brings more than 16 years of project procurement, logistics, and Alaskan construction experience, along with a strong grasp on remote and complex projects. His construction background began at as a laborer for a general contractor in Redmond, Wash., and soon worked for an Anchorage engineering firm until managing his own construction administration business. Julie Schrecengost has been named tax practice leader of KPMG LLP’s Anchorage office, effective Sept. 1. Schrecengost will be responsible for supporting the career development of tax professionals and the strategic direction and growth of KPMG’s Anchorage tax practice. Schrecengost joined KPMG in 2001 and was promoted to tax managing director in 2012. She provides federal and state tax compliance and consulting services to a variety of corporate and partnership organizations and has extensive experience working with Alaska Native corporations and their unique tax matters including natural resources and settlement trusts. She has nearly 20 years of experience serving clients in Alaska with federal and state tax planning and structuring, special consulting projects relating to acquisitions and divestitures, tax provision preparation, and broad tax compliance services. In addition to her client responsibilities, Schrecengost serves as a tax process and technology leader certified under KPMG’s Lean Six Sigma Program, participates in quality and peer reviews, and serves as the leader of KPMG Anchorage’s Mentoring Committee and Network of Women. Michael Baker International announced three hires. Collin Dey, PE SE, joins Michael Baker as an engineering manager, leading the Oil &Gas and Structural departments in Alaska. Dey has more than 30 years of project and engineering experience, previously, serving key leadership roles at BP Alaska. Dey is a licensed civil and structural engineer, expert in design and oversite of industrial infrastructure, pipelines, tanks, commercial buildings, integrity management and arctic engineering. Dey completed his executive engineering and business management from University of Manchester, and a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from University of Colorado.Steven Orizotti transitions from intern to fulltime civil engineering associate. He has a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering from University of Alaska Fairbanks and will support the Water Resources Team in conducting hydrologic and hydraulic monitoring, hydrologic assessments, water quality monitoring, and surface water modeling. Erin Tracy returns to Michael Baker as a civil engineering associate in the Anchorage Transportation Department. Tracy holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Utah State University. Previously, Tracy supported the Transportation Group for the Michael Baker’s Virginia office, working on roadway infrastructures, traffic count studies, drainage plans, and street improvements.

FISH FACTOR: After surveys canceled by COVID-19, crabbers await catch limits

Bering Sea crabbers will soon know how much they can pull up in their pots for the upcoming season that opens Oct. 15. This week the Crab Plan Team, advisers to state and federal fishery managers who jointly manage the fisheries, will review stock assessments and other science used to set the catches for Bristol Bay red king crab, Tanners and snow crab. Normally, the biggest driver would be data from the annual summer trawl surveys that have tracked the stocks for decades. But this year, the surveys were called off due to the COVID-19 virus and that has crabbers worried. “There are certainly some added uncertainties,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents harvesters. Goen said the fleet is anticipating an opener for red king crab, likely less than the 3.8 million pounds taken last season. “Our preliminary indication is that there is possibly going to be a small red king crab fishery. However, we’ve heard from scientists in the past that there has not been good recruitment into that fishery for over a decade,” Goen said. On the brighter side, the snow crab stock has been on a steady upward tick. “We’ve been seeing a lot of recruitment of young crab into this fishery, so even without a survey I think the outlook is good. It’s hard to say, though, given the lack of a survey whether the TAC (total allowable catch) would end up being about the same as last year, which was 34 million pounds, or if it would go up or down,” she added. Bairdi Tanners, snow crab’s larger cousin, also could be in play after a two-year closure. That fishery produced 2.4 million pounds in 2018, and nearly 20 million pounds prior to that. The volatility of the crab stocks and the missing updates from the canceled surveys has the fleet fearing it will result in extra, unnecessary fishing restrictions. “We’re concerned that without a survey, managers will be adding extra buffers for uncertainty which would further reduce our TAC,” Goen said. “We’re already a heavily buffered fishery because of the variability in our stocks. We don’t even come close to approaching our existing buffers, so we don’t think more need to be added.” The total 2019-20 Bering Sea crab catch was 44.4 million pounds for a value of $199.2 million, according to NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Goen had high praise for the collaborative research being done by the industry and scientists to improve understanding and management of the crab stocks through the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation. The Crab Plan Team meetings ran from Sept. 14-17. The agenda and documents are on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council website. More crab One of Alaska’s most stable fisheries, golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands, has been underway since August and will produce more than 6 million pounds. In waters closer to home, Dungeness crab fisheries at Southeast and Kodiak are producing some of the best catches in decades. At the Panhandle, a fleet of 192 permit holders hauled up nearly 6 million pounds of Dungies during a summer fishery that ran from June through Aug. 15 and will reopen on October 1. Managers base the seasonal catch on the first week’s performance, which produced a quick 1.4 million pounds, compared to 772,000 in the first week last summer. “We did pretty good right off the bat,” said Adam Messmer, regional shellfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Douglas. At an average price to fishermen of $1.67 per pound (down from $3.01 last year), the summer fishery was valued at nearly $10 million at the Southeast docks. The Dungies were big and full, Messmer added, referring to fewer soft-shelled crabs that are in the molting process and can’t be sold. The region’s lousy salmon season could mean more boats will be out on the water when the Dungeness fishery reopens in a few weeks, he added. Messmer advised that with the closure of the ADFG office in Wrangell where many crabbers reside, they need to register at the Petersburg office. “They should get on top of that sooner rather than later because not having that Wrangell office is a new thing we’re dealing with,” Messmer said. And more crab Kodiak crabbers are having their best Dungeness fishery in 30 years, with the catch since May at nearly 2 million pounds taken by 25 vessels and five good weeks of fishing left to go. “And we’re seeing similar good production through the Alaska Peninsula and Sand Point area where they are at 810,000 pounds so far. That’s more than in any recent season,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager for ADFG at Kodiak. The higher catches are due in part to “more horsepower on the grounds” as opposed to a higher abundance of crab, and Nichols added that the current Dungie cohort could be the tail end of a peak. “We’ve got 50 to 60 years of history to look at and Kodiak Dungeness crab are very cyclical. In the past these harvest peaks have lasted three years or so and then we kind of go down until we get another big group of crab coming through,” Nichols explained, adding that there does not appear to be many small Dungeness crab coming up behind the current crop. What is coming up are lots of Tanner crabs. Nichols, fresh off the summer survey vessel, said the largest group of tiny Tanners they have ever seen “is still out there” and the crabs appear to be growing fast. Biologists have been tracking the new pulse of Kodiak Tanners since 2018 and next year’s survey could see a significant portion of them reaching legal size, he said. Only legal-sized male crabs can be retained for sale. Meanwhile, local crabbers might not see the expected slump between the 2013 year class of Tanners they’ve been tapping on and the arrival of the 2018 cohort. “At first glance it looks like we’ve met the minimum threshold of 100,000 pounds in each of three different sections so having a fishery in January is a possibility,” Nichols said. “I would not have predicted that a year ago.” On a related note: Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol T because the species was named after its discoverer, Lieutenant Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross that explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Clean up! The third Saturday of September is International Coastal Cleanup Day, started in 1986 by the Ocean Conservancy. Since then, millions of volunteers have collected and categorized over 300 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways worldwide. For the 2019 pickup, more than 940,000 volunteers in 116 countries collected nearly 32.5 million pieces of trash of which a record 4.7 million were food wrappers for candy, chips, etc. They also picked up 4.2 million cigarette butts, 1.8 million plastic bottles, 1.5 million plastic bottle caps, and more than 940,000 straws and drink stirrers. Last year was the first time food wrappers beat cigarette butts as the most collected item. Nick Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, said over 35 years the cleanup has revealed the switch to single-use plastics and its detrimental impact on ocean pollution. In the early days, Mallos said glass bottles, metal caps, and paper bags were most prevalent in the list of top collected items. By 2017 the entire top 10 list included all plastic items (cigarette butts count as plastic trash because the filters are made of plastic fibers) and it has remained that way ever since. Mallos called the issue of single-use plastics, especially food wrappers, both a design and a recycling problem that highlights the need for different types of packaging and better waste management. “Cleanup efforts are only a band-aid, not a complete solution,” he told Fast Company magazine, which focuses on innovation in technology and “world changing ideas.” “With food wrappers taking over the No. 1 pollution spot, it really underscores the unsustainable production of single-use disposable foods and beverage packaging that’s not recycled or nonrecyclable in most cases, as well as the gross inadequacies to responsibly manage this plastic waste in almost all communities around the world,” Mallos said. “We need to solve this problem upstream so that plastics never enter our waterways and never reach the beaches in the first place.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Ballot Measure 1 wins final battle at state Supreme Court

A brief Supreme Court order assured that the oil tax initiative will truly be on November ballots. The court on Aug. 31 affirmed a Superior Court decision in July to dismiss a lawsuit by industry groups against the state Division of Elections. The groups, led by the Resource Development Council for Alaska, attempted to have signatures in support of putting the initiative on the ballot invalidated, which would have kept it off the ballot this fall. They argued the Division of Elections certified petition signatures that were collected by signature gatherers paid in excess of what is allowed by state campaign finance laws. Attorneys for the state and Vote Yes For Alaska’s Fair Share, the sponsors of Ballot Measure 1, responded that the state is required to interpret laws regarding citizens’ initiatives broadly to promote the public process and following to the industry group’s claims would make running an initiative campaign impractical. “Alaskans should be offended that an industry group funded by international oil producers based in Texas would try to take away our rights to engage in free speech, our rights to have our valid signatures counted on the initiative petition, and our rights to vote on Ballot Measure 1,” Vote Yes chair Robin Brena said in a prepared statement. Brena, an oil industry attorney, also argued the case for the citizen group. The Supreme Court order did not contain an opinion on the matter, but stated that one will be drafted. But while Vote Yes or Alaska’s Fair Share won in court, the campaign is losing badly in the race for cash. OneAlaska–Vote No on 1, the industry-backed group formed to oppose the initiative, raised more than $9.8 million through July 7, the most recent reporting period published by the Alaska Public Offices Commission. More than $6 million of that was raised since mid-April. The largest contributions to OneAlaska have come from the large oil producers in the state, with the since-departed BP Exploration Alaska contributing more than $3.6 million to the campaign. Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share, in contrast, had raised $664,330 through the same period, according to APOC records. OneAlaska spent more than $1.8 million on media placements during the April to July reporting period. Vote Yes Campaign Manager David Dunsmore said the group will be running radio spots in rotations until the election. “We don’t have the level of resources that the opposition does, of course,” Dunsmore said. Anchorage Economic Development Corp. CEO Bill Popp, a co-chair of OneAlaska, said part of the reason the group has garnered the support it has is the broad recognition from the state’s business community of the “destructive” impact the initiative’s oil tax increase would have on Alaska’s already beleaguered economy. “We view it as a significant threat to any kind of meaningful economic recovery if (Ballot Measure 1) passes,” Popp said in an interview. He emphasized that while North Slope oil production has declined overall since the most recent oil production tax, known as Senate Bill 21, was enacted in 2014, initiative supporters ignore the reality that Alaska oil developments are years in the making. “These are long lead time projects,” Popp said, adding several large developments are currently in the works by Oil Search and ConocoPhillips. He added that AEDC typically stays out of policy debates as specific as oil taxes, but the issue is too fundamental to the state’s economy to remain neutral. “We just can’t risk such a draconian change in tax policy,” Popp said. Dunsmore said Alaska’s economy would be best served if the state got the roughly $1 billion per year the Fair Share Act is expected to generate over the long-term and its supporters simply have a differing view in that regard to AEDC leaders. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

‘Enough is enough’: Commissioners and execs urge CDC to let cruising resume

MIAMI — Five months after South Florida became a hotbed for COVID-19 cruise outbreaks, Miami-Dade commissioners and cruise executives are urging the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give the cruise industry the OK to restart sailings as soon as possible. At a Sept. 10 virtual tourism and ports committee meeting, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa scolded the federal health agency charged with the country’s public health response to COVID-19, saying it has been too slow to communicate with the industry and must work quickly to get cruising up and running again. The deadly virus continues to claim thousands of American lives every week. “The problem is it’s not fair that the CDC is not paying attention and communicating with the cruise industry,” Sosa said, citing the time between when cruise companies submitted plans to the agency regarding how to mitigate COVID-19 spread among crew in mid-April and the finalizing of those plans in late July. “We cannot wait another 14 weeks.” The meeting, which included packaged videos promoting the cruise industry and live shots with cruise CEOs, did not touch on safety concerns. Commissioners didn’t ask executives for details about how to avoid the disease spread and complications that left hundreds of passengers at sea for weeks and the Coast Guard overwhelmed by medevac requests. The CDC first banned cruises in the U.S. in mid-March amid COVID-19 outbreaks on several ships. The following six months have been marred by disagreements between the industry and the agency. During the ban on cruising, companies have suffered record financial losses and had to lay off large numbers of staff. Thousands of people who support the industry, including longshoremen, shuttle drivers, industry vendors and travel agents, remain out of work. The CDC has banned cruises in the U.S. until at least Oct. 1; most companies have said they will not resume cruises in the U.S. until at least Oct 31. Sosa and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said cruise ships are no more dangerous than hotels or airplanes. That claim has been refuted by the CDC, which has repeatedly noted the unique challenge in preventing COVID-19 spread at sea. “A cruise is a hotel in the middle of the ocean that the doors and windows open all the time, and we have an incredible amount of wind coming in and out making it a safer place,” said Sosa. Said Del Rio, “It’s unconscionable what’s happened to the cruise industry. We’ve been quiet for too long.” Two cruise companies with U.S. headquarters in Miami started cruises again in Italy this month: Carnival Corp., with its Costa Cruises brand, and MSC Cruises. The cruises are only available for Italian passengers and all passengers and crew are undergoing COVID-19 rapid antigen tests before boarding. Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said he expects the company’s AIDA brand to begin cruises in Germany soon. Del Rio said Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings will be submitting its health protocol proposal, created in conjunction with Royal Caribbean Group, to the CDC within the next 10 days. “We’ve got to get to work,” he said. “Enough is enough. It’s been more than six months. We’ve learned a lot.” At odds with CDC In its most recent no-sail order, the CDC said it spent 38,000 man-hours working to manage the COVID-19 crisis on cruise ships as of July 10. After the CDC first warned the public to avoid cruise travel because of the increased risk of COVID-19 spread on March 8, cruise companies continued to operate. Nervous passengers boarded cruises after the CDC warning because companies were not offering refunds. Companies did not screen disembarking passengers at PortMiami, in some cases after learning about previous passengers who had tested positive. On March 13, the industry announced it was canceling all U.S. cruises. The CDC issued its industry-wide no-sail order the next day. In March and April, several ships still carrying passengers became trapped at sea with nowhere to dock and eventually found refuge in Florida ports where dozens of passengers and crew were evacuated; some died on board before the ships arrived, others died in South Florida hospitals. At least 110 passengers and crew members have died from COVID-19, at least 38 in Florida, according to a Miami Herald investigation, and at least 86 ships have been affected, or approximately one-third of the global cruise fleet. In April, seven cruise companies submitted plans to the CDC detailing how they would protect crew from the virus while the ships were out of service. The CDC said the plans largely failed to meet the agency’s requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and staffed two people to work with each company on redrafting the plans. Norwegian Cruise Line continued to house crew in shared cabins with shared bathrooms until July, according to the agency, and took more than two weeks to sign the required form confirming it has a complete and accurate plan. Most companies needed two revisions to their plans before they were deemed complete; one needed seven, the agency said. In the interim, the CDC said cruise companies would be allowed to repatriate crew members through the U.S. using private transportation if their executives signed an agreement with the agency assuming responsibility for following all health protocols, like requiring traveling crew to wear masks. Royal Caribbean told its crew that the CDC had banned all crew repatriation, delaying sending them home. After the Herald reported the company knew the CDC was allowing for repatriation on private transportation, the company reversed and signed the required agreements. In June, the CDC unveiled a grading system for cruise ships based on their level of infection. Ships with complete plans for preventing COVID-19 spread and no COVID-19 cases within 28 days can repatriate crew using public transportation. The only cruise company to have a complete plan at that time was Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. Crew continue to contract COVID-19 aboard laid-up ships, according to CDC data obtained by the Miami Herald via a Freedom of Information Act request. At least seven ships in U.S. waters during the month of August reported COVID-19 or COVID-like illnesses to the CDC that month. Carnival Corp. pulled its ships out of U.S. waters before the grading system debuted, in part because it disagreed with the agency’s requirement that asymptomatic crew members remain in their cabins as much as possible. Virgin Voyages pulled its ship out the following week. Disney Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line have now pulled most of their ships out of U.S. waters. Ships outside U.S. waters are no longer required to report illnesses to the CDC. Hundreds of crew members are still stuck on cruise ships without pay, waiting to be repatriated. A spokesperson for Carnival Corp. said it still had 400 crew to repatriate at the start of this week, after sending home 80,000. A spokesperson for MSC Cruises said it still has around 700 waiting to go home, after repatriating more than 17,800. A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean Group said as of July 17 the company still had 2,815 people to repatriate and did not provide an update. Spokespeople for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings did not respond to a request for comment.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 2 replaces fair elections with political trickery

You’ve likely heard the saying that politicians are like diapers: they should be changed often, and for the same reason. All joking aside, if we Alaskans want to change public policy, we have to change the people who control it. Voters of all political stripes understand this simple concept. We Alaskans use a time-honored process for “changing diapers,” and it’s easy to understand: each person gets one vote, and the candidate who earns the most votes wins. But this November, Alaskans will be asked to vote on Ballot Measure 2, which would throw our election system into chaos. First, nearly all the money behind Ballot Measure 2 comes from out-of-state billionaires and special interest groups unknown to most Alaskans. I know from experience that outsiders rarely have Alaskans’ best interests at heart. That’s why I fought the federal government at the US Supreme Court twice when they wrongly tried to assert control over Alaska’s waterways. So naturally, I became worried when I learned that 99 percent of the $1.1 million spent in support of Ballot Measure 2 comes from outside our state. This alone should ring alarm bells in voters’ minds. Perhaps the most sweeping change proposed in Ballot Measure 2 is to toss aside our “one Alaskan, one vote” system and replace it with a scheme known as ranked choice voting. It’s so complicated, it’s hard to explain, but here’s the gist: voters would be forced to rank every candidate on the ballot, regardless if they wanted that particular candidate to win. Fail to do that, and that vote is at risk of being thrown out if no candidate receives over 50 percent of votes cast. In this situation, a computer system (yes, you read that correctly) would calculate the winner using an algorithm that takes many pages to explain to voters. Under this nightmare scenario, the candidate who is declared the “winner” of an election could be someone who received far fewer votes than the first-place candidate, but instead received a significant number of second, third, or even fourth-choice rankings. Confusing? Yes. And that’s the intent. Backers of Ballot Measure 2 claim this will ensure that each election produces a victor who has the support of a “majority” of voters. But they fail to explain how a tortured majority that was Frankensteined together by adding everyone’s third or fourth-place preferences is really what voters want. Bottom line, this new system is unnecessary; our time-tested system of the candidate with the most vote wins works just fine. Former Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and former Democrat Sen. Mark Begich agree on this issue, admitting it’s a mess. They wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial that ranked choice voting “encourages political trickery.” Special interests with political savvy will run wild, free to unleash unsavory candidate and ranking strategies aimed at forcing a computerized runoff and manipulating the final outcome. The political elite will benefit from these rigged elections while average Alaskan voters will lose their voice. The swamp is the only winner in this scenario. Stick with me, as there’s even more to attempt to explain. Another massive change proposed by Ballot Measure 2 is to completely throw out Alaska’s traditional primary elections and impose California’s “jungle primary” system. Candidates from all political parties, as well as nonpartisan candidates, would all appear on the same primary ballot. The top four vote-getters from this process would then advance to the general election. Once again, voters would be disenfranchised, because this process eliminates their right to select a political party nominee for the general election. In areas that are dominated by a single political party, multiple candidates from the same party would appear on the ballot, while smaller minority parties could lose their ability to advance a candidate to the general election. This could leave many voters with no desired candidate on the ballot. While I can’t speak to the motives of the New York and California billionaires funding Ballot Measure 2, I can tell you that the sweeping changes proposed by this initiative would disenfranchise Alaskan voters, invite voter manipulation and political trickery, and further erode trust in our democratic process. It’s our responsibility to step up, speak out, and inform our neighbors about everything they stand to lose if Ballot Measure 2 becomes law. Sure, we may not have a ton of cash from out-of-state billionaires, but we still have something they don’t: the right to cast a vote in Alaska. Together, let’s protect the integrity of our elections and our votes by voting no on Ballot Measure 2. ^ John Sturgeon is chairman of Defend Alaska Elections-Vote No on 2. He previously spent 12 years fighting to reverse federal intrusion on Alaska’s public lands, achieving victory at the U.S. Supreme Court twice.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska State Parks offers open space to meet COVID challenges

Those looking for a silver lining in the “summer of COVID” might find one in a variation on the old “good news/bad news” story. The bad news is, the tourist industry shutdown has kept most visitors away during our peak outdoor recreation season. The good news is that Alaskans have had the whole place to ourselves! Many Alaskans finding themselves isolated, indoors, or unable to travel this year have found welcome relief in heading outdoors for safe, socially distant recreation in our great outdoors. They’ve been fortunate to discover, or rediscover, the common treasure we have in Alaska State Parks. Alaska State Parks is a division of the Department of Natural Resources also known as the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. As stated by those who created the system 50 years ago, our mission is “to provide outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve and interpret natural, cultural, and historic resources for the use, enjoyment, and welfare of the people.” Our 122 employees manage the nation’s largest state park system, which includes the nation’s biggest single state park (Wood-Tikchik State Park in Southwest Alaska); Denali State Park (which borders and complements the U.S. Park Service’s Denali National Park and Preserve); Chugach State Park (Anchorage’s backyard playground) and many smaller but no less-loved parks in every corner of the state. It encompasses hundreds of miles of trails, scores of campgrounds, boat launches and river boardwalks, and many other elements that make Alaska accessible to all. This system has faced many challenges this year, some originating in COVID-19 and associated impacts, others rooted in ongoing longer-term issues such as earthquakes, flooding, coastal erosion, bark beetle infestation and excessive wildland fires. The division has also responded to the state’s fiscal challenges, by reducing its operating budget by 10 percent and enhancing revenues over the last five years to stabilize our finances. As an agency that directly serves Alaskans, Alaska State Parks works hard to seek out, listen for and respond to suggestions and criticism, and works hard to be transparent about our challenges and how we strive to meet them. The pandemic has disrupted life for many, and Alaska State Parks is no exception. The summer’s combination of more visitors and fewer staff has led some to some people experiencing limited or unavailable space at popular campgrounds, higher traffic on trails, or short-term overflowing of bathroom facilities and dumpsters. Some on editorial pages or social media have recently complained that not every state park unit is in prime condition. A few have even insinuated that we’ve neglected remote spots favored by Alaskans in favor of others oriented toward commercial tourists. We have also heard thanks for quickly reopening some parks after removing beetle-killed tree hazards, and for opening others we feared might have to stay closed all summer. When it comes to campground operations, we’ve faced national travel restrictions that kept away the visiting campground hosts and temporary workers who typically help us manage and monitor our parks each summer. We have responded by prioritizing the most popular sites, imposing temporary closures on others, and enlisting much-appreciated help from willing volunteers. While it may have been easy in the past to blame “those darn Outsiders,” this summer has shown that sometimes those abusing or trashing our parks are Alaskans themselves. We invite all who love our parks to help maintain them, either by joining organized volunteer maintenance and cleanup crews, or just carrying trash bags and picking up trash — including pet waste — while hiking or camping. When it comes to maintaining park facilities, Alaska State Parks has for years tracked what’s become significant backlog of deferred maintenance needs, mostly attributable to aging infrastructure, years of constrained budgets and ever-increasing use. We’ve responded by prioritizing the most significant public health and safety issues, e.g. clean toilets, safe water and critical maintenance. We’ve also been creative in soliciting federal agencies, philanthropic organizations and volunteers for the money, resources and manpower necessary to provide park services at the highest level possible. Park management has also reached out to both established and emerging user groups, to help us integrate their thoughts and concerns into our short- and long-term management plans through full public processes. And we have been brainstorming to seek innovative ways to help all Alaskans who benefit from parks, whether directly and indirectly, share the responsibility for supporting them. Ask any Alaskan why they’re here, and one of their top reasons is probably the chance to live and play in our beautiful, clean natural environment. We at Alaska State Parks share this love for outdoor recreation; many of us have made it our life’s work. Our team will continue to work with the resources available to meet COVID-19 and all other challenges, and manage our parks for the use, enjoyment and welfare of all Alaskans. Ricky Gease is Director of Alaska State Parks.

Mandated ANWR lease sale challenged by politics

The window for the Trump administration to hold an effective lease sale for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain could be closing, but the potential for an administration change in January alone can’t change the requirement for one. That’s because executing a coastal plain oil and gas lease sale in strict accordance with the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 means doing so “in a manner similar” to the way lease sales are handled for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the western North Slope, as directed by Congress in the law. NPR-A lease sales held typically in early December are preceded by a call for nominations, in which the Bureau of Land Management attempts to gauge industry’s interest in leasing acreage in the reserve at a given time. The 30-day call often starts in early August so bureau officials have time to review the comments, determine what will be offered and get the administrative wheels turning ahead of the late-fall sale. Interior officials repeatedly said during the two-year environmental impact statement process that a sale would be held in 2019, but that date has subsequently been pushed back. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the first sale would be held by December 2021 when he signed the record of decision for the environmental review of the sale Aug. 17. A second would come by the end of 2024. However, for the sale to generate legitimate interest companies likely need to have some prospect of political stability given the constant tug-of-war between the parties over what to do with the coastal plain, according to industry analysts and Interior officials involved in the work. An Interior Department spokeswoman did not respond to questions in time for this story. Holding a sale without a call for nominations is an option to get it done ahead of the Nov. 3 election, but that could open the department up to additional legal challenges given the directive from Congress for the process to mirror that from the NPR-A. A sale held shortly after a Nov. 3 win by President Trump would be the best scenario for Republicans and industry advocates, as it would keep them in control of the development process for at least another four years. And while it’s generally believed that a sale held after a Joe Biden victory — either pre- or post-inauguration — would be of little value given Democrats’ vow to reverse or effectively nullify the tax rider, it would not be the end of the story, either. Democrats also need to maintain control in the House and as well as take over the Senate to truly overturn the legislation authorizing the coastal plain leasing program, which was inserted in the tax bill so it could be passed with a simple majority vote and avoid the traditional 60-vote threshold in the Senate for non-budget legislation. Otherwise, if the Biden administration were to attempt to stall the congressionally mandated lease sale program — the tax bill calls for two sales of at least 400,000 acres each by 2027 — with a Republican-controlled Senate, the fight over development of the coastal plain would likely move to confirmation hearings and votes over administration appointments. Alaska Oil and Gas Association CEO Kara Moriarty said she has absolutely no idea what the industry’s interest will be in the coastal plain if or when a sale is held given all of the political and economic factors at play. While some companies may be limited by the amount of capital they have to immediately invest in obtaining leases with currently depressed energy markets, companies will not be making the decision of whether or not to bid in an ANWR sale based on current markets, Moriarty emphasized, as oil production from the area is at least a decade away. She also noted that a lease does not come with a license to drill and additional permitting would be required for any on-the-ground activity. “There is absolutely no harm in offering a lease sale,” Moriarty said. Many observers believe that while the fight over exploration in the coastal plain garners the national attention, the nearly-completed overhaul of the land-use plan for the NPR-A — aimed at opening more of the western Slope to development — will attract much more interest from industry given the recent large Nanushuk formation oil discoveries made in the area. However, all of the political permutations are largely rendered moot if the BLM’s environmental impact statement for the coastal plain leasing program can’t hold up in court, and it’s getting plenty of scrutiny. The Gwich’in Steering Committee, a group of leaders from Interior Alaska Native villages, and a coalition of conservation groups sued Bernhardt and Interior agencies Aug. 24 in part for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of development in the environmental review of the lease sale. The Tribal governments of the communities of Arctic Village and Venetie also sued Interior Sept. 9, alleging agency officials ignored the impact that disruption of the Porcupine caribou heard, which calves on portions of the coastal plain, could have on residents of the villages that are outside of the immediate development area. The attorneys general of 15 states took their shot at Interior as well Sept. 8, filing a joint lawsuit to stop the leasing program. The states — from across the country — contend the Trump administration did not analyze a sufficient range of leasing alternatives in its review and, among other things, did not consider the contribution the oil produced from the coastal plain could have on the climate. The Justice Department has not yet responded to the complaints. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Redesigned BuyAlaska program seeks to bolster state economy

In February this year, Katie Ashbaugh excitedly accepted the position of sustainability coordinator at Allen Marine Tours, a Southeast Alaska day-cruise operator. She was looking forward to helping the company mitigate its environmental impact. “This was the beginning of my dream career,” says Ashbaugh. She recently earned an MBA that focused on balancing profitability and sustainability, and was eager to get started. “Simple changes — like making sure that cups and containers are compostable, sharing information about the cycle of trash, and helping passengers connect that to how we can be good stewards of our environment — make a big difference,” she said.  She worked for Allen Marine Tours for six weeks, and then the pandemic hit.  Like many Alaskans, Ashbaugh was furloughed in March and eventually laid off at the end of April. She remembers walking through downtown Juneau in the spring and noting the uncommon quiet. Usually teeming with visitors from all over the world, the streets were mostly empty and shops were closed. Once businesses started re-opening, the difference between locally-owned and non-locally-owned businesses was starkly apparent. “Local businesses quickly got creative about finding safe ways for people to come in and shop,” says Ashbaugh. “But we have a section of downtown called the ‘tourist trap’ that’s mostly owned by cruise ships; all of those shops are shuttered. They didn’t reopen, they aren’t thinking about reopening, and it’s really unfortunate to see this part of town underutilized… imagine if the shops there were local instead?” Katie Ashbaugh browses the inventory at Kindred Post in Juneau. Ashbaugh joined BuyAlaska after being furloughed from her new job with Allen Marine Tours amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo/Courtesy) Ashbaugh’s sustainable business experience, combined with her desire to champion local business, made her the top candidate for the Alaska Small Business Development Center’s BuyAlaska staff position at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Originally launched in the early 2000s to help businesses get online at a time when developing a website was prohibitively expensive for many owners, BuyAlaska has been mostly dormant in recent years. With the onset of COVID-19 and the upswell of support for small businesses across the state, the initiative was ripe for a refresh.  “People want to help each other out right now, and buying Alaska products or services is a good way to do so,” says Ashbaugh. “Once you purchase a locally-made product or choose a local service, it’s all part of a compounding cycle. You’re keeping money in your community, supporting jobs, benefiting the environment, and fostering a community culture.”  Nationally, studies show that locally-owned stores generate nearly four times as much economic benefit to surrounding areas than non-locally-owned stores, and local retailers return an average of 52 percent of their revenue to the local economy. Additionally, dining at a local restaurant produces more than twice the local economic impact of a chain restaurant.  Locally-owned businesses make an outsized impact on the economy because they tend to purchase more goods and services from local suppliers, increase the local tax base, and are more likely to donate to local charitable causes. BuyAlaska relies on a group of stakeholders from across the state representing numerous industries, using their expertise to advance the initiative. One of those stakeholders is Heather Rhodes, a marketing manager at Alaska Communications. Early on during the pandemic, Rhodes wanted to host a virtual breakfast for her team to help them feel connected while working remotely. She called a dozen different restaurants until she found one that was open. “It was heartbreaking,” she said. “Some of the restaurants were longtime favorites, and a couple of them still haven’t re-opened. I want to help keep businesses from closing, get them online, and show them how to access new customers so that they can start to thrive again.” The recently-launched BuyAlaska website encourages Alaskans to shop local while also helping businesses connect with more customers and each other. It also offers links to business directories, resources for business owners to navigate going digital, and information about accessing COVID-19 support. The site is complemented by an e-newsletter and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles. Rhodes is using her marketing and business expertise to help reach Alaskans and change the way they make purchasing decisions.  “On one side we’re making it easy for customers to find the local products they are looking for, and on the other we’re amplifying businesses’ marketing efforts and providing them with technical assistance. By supporting both sides we can make a bigger difference, faster.”  Heather Rhodes picks some Alaska Grown produce at Pyra’s Pioneer Peak farm in Palmer. (Photo/Courtesy) In Anchorage, where Rhodes lives, a recent report released by the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. says that 70 percent of businesses saw their revenue decline during the pandemic and 43 percent made employment reductions. She hopes the Buy Alaska initiative will motivate more people to buy local first to help businesses recover. “Instead of just clicking to order supplies, go see if the mom and pop shop down the street has what you’re looking for. Instead of getting your coffee from a national roaster, pick up something from a local roaster; we have so many great options!” she said. “And so many businesses are offering curbside pick-up, or delivery now. They’re making it so easy for us to support them.” Both Rhodes and Ashbaugh are putting their money where their mouths are; in Rhodes' case, literally. “My family and I are frequent fliers at Middle Way Cafe for cupcakes,” says Rhodes. “And then we rotate our coffee bean purchases between Kaladi Brothers, Steam Dot, and Black Cup.” Ashbaugh recently took advantage of a travel package for Alaskans, and visited Denali National Park for the first time. “We originally planned on camping, but there were such great discounts we were able to stay at some really nice places in the area.” She can’t stop buying local jewelry, and loves to support artists. “We’re voting with our pocketbooks,” says Rhodes. “And we want to see other Alaskans follow suit, and shop local first!” Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, Vice Chair for Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

USDA announces tariff relief for seafood harvesters

Harvesters in more than a dozen commercial fisheries across Alaska that have been hit in the pocketbook by foreign tariffs on American seafood are eligible for part of $530 million in federal aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA announced Sept. 9 that the money is meant to offset weaker market conditions for American seafood brought on by import tariffs. A statement announcing the availability of the funds, which will be dispersed through the USDA’s new Seafood Trade Relief Program, says generally that the aid is meant to help commercial fishermen “impacted by retaliatory tariffs from foreign governments,” but it is understood to be a direct response to tariffs from China. “Many nations have not played by the rules for a long time, and President Trump is the first president to stand up to them and send a clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate unfair trade practices. The Seafood Trade Relief Program ensures fishermen ” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a prepared statement. The money will be available to commercial fishermen that participated in fisheries that, by species, suffered more than $5 million in retaliatory trade damages, according to program documents provided by the USDA. The Alaska fisheries include: Atka mackerel Dungeness, king, and Tanner crab Geoduck Herring Pacific cod Pollock Black cod (sablefish) Salmon Sole   The aid is capped at $250,000 per person. Fishermen can apply for the aid from Sept. 14 to Dec. 14 through local USDA Service Centers. Eligible fishermen will receive funds on a per pound basis according to USDA calculations that attempt to determine to what level the price of a given species was impacted by the tariffs. Atka mackerel fishermen, for example, can receive 10 cents per pound, while harvesters of the more valuable geoduck clam can receive 76 cents per pound — the highest payment amount among the qualifying species. The funds will come from the Commodity Credit Corp. that is administered by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. China has placed tariffs of varying levels — some up to 40 percent — on American seafood imports following import tariffs levied on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods, starting in 2018. With an annual value of roughly $2.5 billion, seafood is far and away Alaska’s top export and accounts for about half of the value of all the products and commodities shipped out of the state, according to figures from the Alaska Office of International Trade. Additionally, China is the state’s largest trading partner. The country has purchased about $1.2 billion worth of Alaska goods — about one-quarter of all the state’s exports — in recent years. Many in the state’s fishing industry initially feared the Trump administration’s tariffs on seafood imported from China would doubly hit Alaska-harvested fish and shellfish, as much of the state’s catch is sent across the Pacific for processing in China before returning to the U.S. as a finished retail product. However, administration officials exempted domestically sourced seafood products that are eventually imported from China from the tariffs in July 2018 after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials discussed the issue with those in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said she got a call “bright and early” Sept. 9 from White House food and agriculture officials about a subsequent briefing that included the president’s advisors for a program that would benefit Alaska’s commercial fishermen. Leach emphasized that Sen. Dan Sullivan was “very instrumental” in getting the aid for fishermen across the country. She noted harvesters of other food commodities — many of the nation’s farmers — previously received federal aid to offset the impacts by China’s tariffs. The Seafood Trade Relief Program simply provides similar help to the country’s seafood harvesters. “Sen. Sullivan just kept pushing and pushing to say, ‘commercial fishermen were impacted by this, too.’” Leach described. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she is pleased the administration has recognized the importance of a healthy seafood industry after more than two years of retaliatory tariffs from China and also thanked Sullivan for his “relentless efforts to educate the administration” on the issue. Sullivan serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the subcommittees covering fisheries and trade. He has regularly called out the trade practices of the Chinese government but has also been critical at times of the Trump administration’s often blunt approach to the issue. Staff in Sullivan’s office said that while the aid does not solve the more country’s fundamental trade issues with China, the Chinese government has long violated international trade rules. Sullivan said in a formal statement that he raised the issue of tariff relief for Alaska fishermen in discussions with numerous administration officials, including Trump, Perdue and Vice President Mike Pence. “I am very appreciative that the White House and the Department of Agriculture listened to the fishermen in Alaska and across the country, and are offering substantial, historic financial assistance to these hard-working individuals,” he said. “As I often say, Alaska is the superpower of seafood for our nation, and our fishermen are America’s ultimate small business.” Leach reminded fishermen who apply for the aid that it is not meant for fishermen who had their business impacted by the pandemic; there are other aid programs for that. “This is specific and only for tariff relief,” she said. Alaska’s large commercial halibut fishery was left off the list of eligible fisheries because halibut is mostly sold domestically, particularly to restaurants, according to Leach. However, she questioned why the sea cucumber fishery was left off as well. “Sea cucumber divers were one of the first (groups) impacted by Chinese tariffs and lost a lot of money,” Leach said. The money is only available to harvesters; processors are not eligible, Leach clarified as well. Still, she encouraged Alaskan fishermen to apply for the aid as quickly as possible, given the $530 million will eventually be spread nationwide. “It’s half-a-billion dollars, however, when you’re looking to help fishermen across the country those dollars start to dwindle very fast,” Leach said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Tax credit chickens come home to roost

KFC could probably hire Tom Cruise as its next celebrity Colonel Sanders with the number of chickens coming home to roost in Alaska. A long-awaited and inexplicably delayed decision from the Alaska Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a bill passed in 2018 to pay off the state’s oil tax credit debt. House Bill 331 would have created a shell company within the Department of Revenue to sell up to $1 billion worth of “subject to appropriation” bonds to settle with the independent oil and gas explorers who took the shaft from $630 million in budget vetoes by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2015 and 2016 amid multi-billion dollar deficits. The fallout of the vetoes was massive. Banks now burned twice by Walker stopped lending into the state’s independent oil and gas sector. Caelus Energy was forced to sell North Slope assets to the major ConocoPhillips. Furie Operating Alaska, which had other cash flow problems, declared bankruptcy last year. The state was compelled to modify its loan agreements with Blue Crest in Cook Inlet and Brooks Range Petroleum on the Slope. The Legislature shuttered the tax credit program in 2017 without a plan to clear the books, leaving it up to Walker’s administration to concoct a dubious idea to pay debt with more debt by taking advantage of the interest spread between the cost of the bonds and inducing companies to take haircuts of up to 10 percent on what they were owed in order to get paid faster than waiting on minimum statutory appropriations. A public interest lawsuit by Eric Forrer of Juneau immediately halted the effort, which was initially upheld in Superior Court before being unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court and leaving the state once again on the hook for more than $700 million with no means in sight to pay now that savings accounts have been drained and the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve balance reduced by some $5 billion after transfers to the principal account in the past two years. Walker’s chickens came home to roost in 2018 as he was already headed toward defeat in a three-way race with former Sen. Mark Begich and eventual winner Gov. Mike Dunleavy before the abrupt resignation of running mate Byron Mallott amid a sexual misconduct scandal sealed his fate. For prominent members of the Legislature, the reckoning was delayed but no less decisive after the Aug. 18 primary as Senate President Cathy Giessel and Sen. John Coghill were ousted along with fellow Republican legislators Reps. Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp and Gabrielle LeDoux who chose to form a majority with Democrats after the 2018 election. Candidates who favor paying out a Permanent Fund dividend according to the formula that is still on the books could upend the current majority caucuses after the November general election is settled, but they may well find that math is a stubborn thing and chasing the car is far more fun than sinking their teeth into the tires. Now exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that has cratered oil prices, North Slope jobs and delayed promising exploration and development projects, the state’s budget situation will resist the ability to pay a full PFD and the economic situation is beyond being rescued by such simplistic promises even if they could be kept. The oil tax credit issue would largely be moot had Walker not vetoed $630 million in credit payments after they were approved by the Legislature, but his 2016 plan — that was endorsed in this space — to use a portion of Permanent Fund earnings and set a fixed dividend amount for the ensuing three years would have put us on a much better footing than we find ourselves today. For that the blame lies with the Republican-led House Majority that chose instead to drain more than $4 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve after the Senate had approved the bill by a decisive vote. Four years later, some of the prospective new Republican legislators heading to Juneau have the same attitude of those who rejected a sensible path toward fiscal stability but this time they don’t have billions in savings to spend as an alternative and they are still stuck with the tax credit bill that Walker left the state through his vetoes. They’ll be lucky if the toughest choice they have is grilled or fried, but a debate resembling whether the egg came first is more likely. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Bizarre salmon season winds down short of state projections

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct that 21.2 million pinks had been caught in Kodiak in the 2020 season. On top all the other effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a strange year for Alaska’s commercial salmon fisheries. As the fisheries are winding down, the total landings are about 17 percent behind the projections statewide. The Copper River sockeye run was a flop, as was the chum run statewide, and the silver salmon harvest was down everywhere except Kodiak and Bristol Bay. Prices were down, too, and processors had the extra expense and responsibility of keeping workers healthy in remote communities at close quarters. Copper River’s early season sockeye openers seemed to bode ill for the state. After just a few paltry catches, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the fishery, hoping to boost escapement. The reds just never showed up. The sonar at Miles Lake stopped counting July 28 and met the minimum escapement, but without a commercial fishery. Sockeye runs started similarly slowly in Upper Cook Inlet, and stalled out when poor king salmon returns led to a complete closure for East Side setnets and restrictions for drift gillnets in mid-July. Bristol Bay largely shrugged off the poor news of the early season, though, and delivered close to the same number of landings as last year: just 9 percent fewer, with about 39.2 million sockeye landed. On top of that harvest, the Egegik, Ugashik, and Naknek-Kvichak districts exceeded their sockeye escapement goals. The Naknek River blew its goal away; more than 4.1 million sockeye passed that river before July 21, the highest escapement on record, according to ADFG. Bristol Bay is the heavyweight in the wild sockeye salmon world; more than three quarters of the sockeye harvested in the state come from there. So the prices posted there for the beginning of the season are usually an indicator for what the value of the harvest is going to be. Usually. “What we’ve seen when it comes to salmon prices is a general decline across the state and across all species,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist specializing in fisheries with the McDowell Group. “Because Bristol Bay is such a high value fishery, a lot of attention is paid to the base price that is posted there, and that was down about 50 percent from last year. There’s a lot of reasons for that.” One of those reasons is because of all the costs processors had to swallow related to the pandemic. Bringing in workers, quarantining them, testing them regularly, and providing protective equipment is expensive. But on top of that, the Bristol Bay sockeye hit in a big pulse rather than being spanned out. Because of capacity, the processors generally moved toward head-and-gutting rather than more added-value products, like filleting and roe, Evridge said. While Alaska fish are entering a more favorable market because the retail sector is recovering and some other stocks haven’t been producing, like Russian farmed fish, prices are generally lower for farmed fish, which may harm the retail prices for Alaska fish, he said. There’s also the economic pressure on consumers to consider. Overall, it paints a picture of uncertainty for Alaska seafood. “2020 is an unusual year, and the early indicators are one of a decline in value, but we’re really going to have to wait and see how it all shakes out in terms of price adjustments made throughout this winter,” he said. “We will have a better handle on what the final price is in the spring of next year.” The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association noted strong retail sales in a press release Sept. 8, praising the fleet and industry for its pandemic prevention measures “Grocery and seafood retailers took notice of this year’s harvest, with several new partners signing on for summertime promotions of fresh sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay,” the organization stated. “Eight retail chains containing over 1,200 individual stores hosted branded Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon promotions or promoted salmon from Bristol Bay online, with many seeing significant sales gains.” Kodiak also saw a significantly better season than other regions. As of Sept. 3, about 21.2 million pink salmon had been harvested, more than three times the harvest in 2018. The sockeye harvest was behind the 2019 landings, but silvers were slightly ahead, with 377,000 silvers landed. The South Alaska Peninsula is doing better than last year for pink salmon, with about 4.1 million harvested, but is still tracking behind the multi-year averages. On the other hand, Chignik experienced one of its worst seasons on record. Both the early and late sockeye runs were extremely weak, prompting closures on the commercial fishery there. Up until ADFG pulled out the weir in the Chignik River on Aug. 27, only 309,702 sockeye had been counted for the entire season, which wasn’t enough for either run to meet its escapement goal. That’s the third year in a row for the early run, and ADFG doesn’t project that any remaining fish will help the late run meet its escapement goal. The chum run made its escapement in the Chignik Management Area made its escapement, but the pink run did not. Two years ago, the community received a federal disaster declaration for a similarly poor run and closure and is just now seeing funds distributed to cover that disaster. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Remote work perks don’t work for all professions

DALLAS — Working from home has become more than a way to get through the pandemic. It’s now a favored perk for some employees and a necessary lifestyle for others. For some companies, it’s also become a powerful recruiting tool. AmeriSave Mortgage Corp. has been hiring people from around the country to report to the office in Plano, Texas. By leading with the opportunity to work remotely, it’s attracted a flood of candidates even while raising the qualifications to apply. “I jumped on it because I’ve known about the opportunities at AmeriSave, and I didn’t want to leave my family in Nebraska,” said Noah Peters, who worked for the city of Omaha before becoming a work-from-home loan originator in July. “I’m an in-person kind of guy, but this was pretty seamless. I love what I’m doing and I’m happy I made the change.” Bottle Rocket, a technology firm based in Addison, Texas, adopted a “work from everywhere” policy early in the pandemic and said it was permanent. That caught the attention of three former employees in Seattle, Austin and California, and the company quickly rehired them. “These are very valuable hires who have the institutional memory of our culture and processes,” Bottle Rocket founder and CEO Calvin Carter said. “They were up and running instantly.” The new policy has also helped attract diverse candidates from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Carter said. These were folks who weren’t willing to make a long daily drive to the headquarters in Addison. “These are benefits we didn’t see coming,” Carter said. “It makes us more competitive in the human capital wars.” But work from home doesn’t work for a lot of people. Many don’t have the right computer, software, broadband and training. Other jobs, such as serving food at a restaurant or performing surgery at a hospital, cannot be done from home. As a result, the work-from-home phenomenon is heavily skewed by education, ethnicity and industry. “This is one way in which inequality manifests itself, especially in the education gap,” said Karel Mertens, a senior economic policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and co-author of a recent working paper on remote work. In February, a similar share of the U.S. workforce was working from home regardless of education — roughly 7 percent to 8 percent, the study found. By August, 38 percent of college grads were still working remotely compared with 11 percent of those with a high school diploma or less. A greater share of white employees also worked remotely compared with Hispanics and Blacks, the study said. In hotels and restaurants, among the hardest-hit industries, only about 10 percent of workers were remote in August (based on February employment levels). By the same metric, half the workers in banking, finance and insurance were remote, the study showed. In professional and business services, one of Dallas-Fort Worth’s largest job sectors, 44 percent were working at home. “Certain conditions are needed to work from home, and there can be a lot of barriers,” said Laurie Bouillion Larrea, president of Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas, a nonprofit that manages government-funded programs for workers in the region. Larrea said gaps in education and communication skills can be significant, and many workers don’t have the space or money for a dedicated home office. She sees a mismatch in the local labor market right now: Most employers want workers to staff their physical facilities, but many unemployed want to work from home. Concerns are high about child care, remote learning for school and the risk of COVID-19. “This is the single biggest conversation we’re having with job seekers right now,” Larrea said. A statewide job bank shows that Dallas County currently has over 3,200 openings for laborers, material movers and counter clerks. Nearly 2,500 jobs are listed for production workers, truck drivers, assemblers and helpers for production lines. These jobs cannot be done from home, and Larrea warned about misinterpreting recent trends. Most remote workers are doing the same tasks as before the pandemic, she said, and that’s different from creating new remote positions. “Work-from-home jobs are not the same as work-from-home job postings,” Larrea said. “Many of these remote jobs are not for people who are unemployed now.” But AmeriSave’s openings were a good fit for Peters, who’s 37 and married with two kids, and has family near his home in Omaha. He took the company’s online training and passed a national exam for a mortgage loan originator’s license. To stay connected, he does a lot of webcam and phone work — daily huddles with colleagues and managers, group texts about sports and other trivia, and friendly competition over sales goals. It may not be the same as in-person contact, but it’s good: “I’m with these guys — and not with these guys — for eight to 10 hours a day,” Peters said. “There’s no real feeling of missing anything.” In a 2013 study of a major Chinese travel agency, researchers found that working from home led to strong productivity, low attrition and high job satisfaction. But remote working also reduced promotions by about 50 percent, in part because supervisors didn’t notice those workers as much. “One story that is consistent with this is that home-based employees are ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” the researchers wrote, dubbing it “a promotion penalty.” Peters in Omaha isn’t worried about his prospects at AmeriSave in Plano. In the past month, he’s seen the company hiring and promoting trainers, managers and team leaders. “Everyone’s in the same boat: We’re all remote,” he said.

Analysis: initiative would ‘erode’ Slope competitiveness

The leaders of Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share insist their oil tax increase will provide upwards of $1 billion per year to the state when it’s needed most but an independent economic analysis of the measure concluded it would take an already marginally competitive regime to near the bottom of the heap. Irena Agalliu, the vice president of upstream energy at the London-based financial research and consulting firm IHS Markit emphasized that the oil production tax changes in the Fair Share Act initiative would be enacted at a time when the industry is facing two crises — the pandemic and an oil price collapse exacerbated by a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Russia. It’s a point industry advocates and other opponents of the tax increase have also highlighted in recent months. The sponsors of Ballot Measure 1 for the November general election counter that few, if any, oil projects are profitable at the very low prices seen while the most strict pandemic response measures were in place earlier this year. Agalliu discussed the IHS Markit comparisons of Alaska’s current and potential oil tax systems against other oil provinces domestically and worldwide during a Sept. 2 videoconferenced presentation hosted by the Alaska policy think tank Commonwealth North. According to the IHS Markit analysis of Alaska’s current and proposed oil taxes against Lower 48 and offshore international oil developments, the large North Slope oil fields the measure would apply to are currently more competitive based on average cash flow than many Lower 48 shale oil plays in the $35 per barrel price range because of higher private royalties across the rest of the country and the ballot measure would change that only slightly. However, Agalliu noted that investments in new projects simply would not be made in most places, including Alaska, based on those market prices. “At $35 per barrel a majority of the jurisdictions have a negative NPV per barrel,” Agalliu said of Alaska, Lower 48 shale and large offshore oil fields worldwide. NPV, or net present value, is a calculation of the cash outflows and inflows resulting from an investment, in this case in an oil field. IHS Markit analysts expect oil prices to eventually return to the pre-pandemic average of roughly $60 per barrel, according to Agalliu, but that may take two to three years, she said. In the $60 per barrel range, both the current tax, commonly referred to by its bill title Senate Bill 21, and the ballot measure begin to make large Alaska projects fade in terms of investment competitiveness both domestically and against comparable investments worldwide, Agalliu said. That’s because North Slope oil projects have relatively high development costs and the state’s tax regime is heavily progressive, meaning the net profits tax increases significantly along with oil prices. “The government in Alaska tries to capture most of the upside,” Agalliu said. Under SB 21, the 500 million-barrel North Slope field modeled by IHS Markit analysts has an NPV of $1.16 per produced barrel of oil. That same barrel would have an NPV of $0.25 under the Fair Share Act, according to Agalliu. “Under Ballot Measure 1 Alaska’s NPV is barely positive and even the current fiscal system yields four to five times lower value per barrel to investors than let’s say Brazil or U.S. Gulf of Mexico (oil projects),” she said. The Fair Share Act would increase both the current 4 percent gross minimum and the tiered net profits tax rates. Initiative backers stress that SB 21 has resulted in the state receiving less than 20 percent of the gross revenue from North Slope oil in recent years, while historically the state has gotten 28 percent of that pie. Opponents retort that the ballot measure would give North Slope projects a higher “government take,” or the amount of gross oil revenue captured through royalties and taxes, than nearly all of the Lower 48 unconventional oil plays they are competing for capital against. However, Agalliu said the government take metric does not always give an accurate comparison of project investments because projects can be uneconomic but have little government take. At a higher level, she said the frequent amendments and overhauls to Alaska’s production tax code over the last roughly 15 years have indeed impacted investment in one of the state’s primary industries. “There’s been reports of a loss of confidence in the investor system,” Agalliu said of Alaska, a point frequently noted by ballot measure opponents. She also said other states and countries — if they are going to change them — generally lower taxes during periods of low oil prices, while the Fair Share Act would do the opposite. Initiative supporters contend several of the state’s tax changes since the mid-2000s have benefitted industry, most notably SB 21 in 2013, and the price-tax relationships must be analyzed over the long-term, not just at low prices. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for Sept. 13

Steve Brown is the new director for the U.S. Small Business Administration Alaska District Office. Prior to assuming the role of district director in August, Brown served as the chairman of the Bannock County Commission in Idaho for two years where he oversaw all county, support city and municipality government services for 88,000 citizens with a staff of 450 employees. From 2010 to 2017, Brown served on the Pocatello City Council and was council president for the last two years. He also served on the board of directors for the Bannock Development Corp. and the Pocatello Development Authority where he helped both organizations build the economic health of eastern Idaho. Additionally, Brown has worked as a regional director for former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, both of Idaho. Brown has also owned several small businesses including an insurance agency and a consulting company which he operated for 24 years. Four women will take on new leadership roles at Anchorage-based Thompson &Co. Public Relations. Ariel Walsh-Amand and Ally Day will help lead the agency’s executive strategy, and Bri Kelly and Kailee Wallis will contribute to the agency’s senior management team. Walsh-Amand was promoted to chief operating officer. Walsh-Amand is already an expert in onboarding new employees, accounting and managing employee benefits, among many other skills developed over 11 years at T&C. Day was promoted to vice president, Client Services. Day brings 10 years of T&C experience in leading client successes to the agency’s executive strategy team with her promotion. Day will further develop T&Cs client services practice with a focus on client-agency relationships, retention and continuity. Kelly was promoted to senior account manager. After nine years at the agency, Kelly will also take on an increased role as mentor for T&C’s management team. Wallis was promoted to Digital director. Wallis is a founding member of T&C’s digital team, and she has largely contributed to it being T&C’s fastest-growing department. Having helped create the path for digital services offered at the agency, Wallis will lead the digital department in mediums like graphic design, video, photography, social media strategy and more. Stephanie Gann has joined KeyBank as branch manager of the Behrends branch in Juneau, which is scheduled to re-open Sept. 8. In this role, she will be responsible for day-to-day operations and coaching her team, as well as providing financial services, including investments and mortgages, to both small business and consumer clients. Gann relocated from Phoenix, where she was branch manager for the Delta-T Group and managed regional sales. She has also served as a senior business development manager for Accountants International and as an assistant branch manager for a mortgage company. She graduated from Santa Clara University with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

FISH FACTOR: Senate debate on for Kodiak; legislators get earful over board picks

Kodiak has again scored a first debate between candidates in one of Alaska’s most high-profile political races: the U.S. Senate. Kodiak has been hosting debates for congressional and gubernatorial hopefuls since 1999 with a single focus: Alaska’s seafood industry. The date and format for the U.S. Senate faceoff are still being finalized, but it will occur in close proximity to the annual ComFish event on Sept. 17 and 18, bumped by COVID-19 from its traditional dates in March, and now set to be a virtual experience. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan and Independent challenger Dr. Al Gross are working out the details of their participation, said Sarah Phillips, executive director at the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce and ComFish organizer. Viewers can livestream the debate via Facebook, YouTube and the comfishak.com website, Williams said. Those platforms also will be used for the many educational forums that will be presented virtually and made available online long after. Phillips is certain there will be a great deal of interest in the debate and ComFish events, based on the response to a virtual five-day annual Crab Fest the Chamber successfully pulled off last month. “We actually had an audience of 44,000 tune in for Crab Fest so we got a lot more reach than we typically do,” she said. “We are very aware that we have a big audience outside of Kodiak.” Still, Phillips admits that Islanders will miss the swarm of visitors, trade show exhibitors and industry experts that normally fill the town during a normal ComFish. “We can’t deny that our local hospitality industry is very highly impacted by this,” she said. “Everything from our hotels to our B&Bs and restaurants and bars. Kodiak is a really fun place for our attendees and vendors to come to, and we are missing that significant economic driver. And our fishing industry really relies on the goods and services and information that ComFish brings.” On a related note, Pacific Marine Expo also has canceled its event planned for early December in Seattle. A virtual “Expo Online” will instead be presented by National Fisherman on Nov. 17-19. BOF earful Hundreds of Alaskans gave legislators an earful at recent hearings on controversial appointees to the Board of Fisheries, which oversees management of the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. Comments are still being accepted and had topped 500 after two virtual hearings, one on Aug. 28 convened by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and another held jointly by the House Fisheries and Resources committees on Sept. 3, where more than 100 people also called in to testify. The overwhelming majority of Alaskans expressed polite outrage at Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s selection of Abe Williams of Anchorage, director of regional affairs for the Pebble Partnership. He would be the second member to be affiliated with Pebble should he be approved by the full legislature. During the five-hour Sept. 3 hearing, only four spoke in favor of Williams’ appointment. Nearly all comments also sharply criticized the makeup of the seven-member board that would be dominated by sportfish seats, and that only one member, John Jensen of Petersburg, represents a coastal fishing region. Alaskans also finally got a chance to hear from unknown appointee McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks, a self-proclaimed hunting and sportfish guide, small plane enthusiast and an adjunct professor in “economics and recreation management” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As credentials for serving on the board, Mitchell offered her graduate thesis titled “Determinants of Anglers Willingness to Pay to Support the Recreational (Halibut) Quota Entity Program.” (Halibut is not a state managed fishery; it falls under the jurisdiction of the International Pacific Halibut Commission.) Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, revealed that Mitchell had never attended a board meeting until after she was appointed by the governor, and directly questioned her lack of qualifications and experience to serve on such a complex board. Ms. Mitchell’s verbatim response: “Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that question. I can understand that I have not really been involved in this process, you know, prior to the appointment and last winter when I, you know, the, you know, I became aware that, you know, some positions were going to be coming open and, you know, and then I decided to put my name in for a seat and, and the reason I guess I wasn’t involved before is I, I just graduated school in May of 2019. “And so I, you know, my life kind of went through a big transition over the last year and a half as I completed school and completed my pilot ratings that I’ve been working at, and, you know, during those years I was waiting tables five and six nights a week while I was in school, but, you know, it’s just and now all of a sudden I’ve graduated and I have a more stable employment. “And, um, you know, I have the credentials to support a different lifestyle as opposed to, you know, trying to be a student and pay for school and whatnot, and all of a sudden I, my life has changed in the last year and a half and has given me the opportunities to be, become involved, and that’s, I guess, what I’m trying to do. So, thank you.” A stream of commenters called Mitchell “woefully lacking in experience,” and “a glaring example of why there is no trust in the system,” and called her appointment “an insult to the process” and “criminal.” Four testified in support, each saying they believed Mitchell would provide “fresh perspectives.” Although they have not been confirmed by the Alaska Legislature, Mitchell and Williams will be voting members on upcoming Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska fish issues if the Board of Fisheries convenes its meeting cycle starting in October. According to Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, the governor could call a special session and include confirmations on the agenda, but that must be done by Dec. 15. If no special session is called, “the current appointments would be interpreted as a no vote by the Alaska Legislature and they are not eligible for reappointment during the next session,” Stutes said. It all could become a moot point. The Board of Fisheries will hold a listen-only teleconference on Sept. 16 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. to consider its 2020-21 meeting schedule due to constraints posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A live audio stream of the teleconference will be available at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov. The board accepted public comments on the topic from July 22 through Aug. 31, and the majority voiced support for postponing the meetings as opposed to holding them online. Additional written comments may be sent through September 11 to [email protected]/ or mailed to Boards Support Section, P.O. Box 115526, Juneau, AK 99811-5526. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

GOP pitches election as choice on energy policy

The U.S. middle class faces an existential crisis under a Biden-Harris administration and its promise to use the Green New Deal as the foundation for its energy policy. That’s the verdict of three high-ranking elected officials who participated in a video call Aug. 20 for an energy-focused nonprofit organization. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, all Republicans, spoke at length on the economic benefits of increasing energy production, as has happened under President Donald Trump, versus the essential shutdown of the sector that would occur should Joe Biden be elected. “There is as sharp a divergence on energy as we have ever seen,” Cruz said. “Joe Biden let Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez write his energy plan. They will ban fracking. They will do everything they can from the federal government to shut down energy jobs, to shutdown oil and gas jobs, to make us dependent once again on hostile governments who don’t have America’s interests in mind.” Indeed, Biden’s presidential campaign website states that he “believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” The call was hosted by The Empowerment Alliance, a nonprofit organization that started operations late last year to challenge the Green New Deal and promote natural gas. As a nonprofit, the group does not have to disclose its donors, but Executive Director Jim Nathanson told Politico last year that it plans to be “a significant factor in the 2020 election.” The alliance is promoting its Declaration of Energy Independence, which states: “We, the undersigned, are committed to achieving the above goals and establishing America’s Energy Independence for the lasting good of our nation and future generations.” Cruz, Ricketts and Landry are among the notable signers. The call focused on energy production as a job-creation engine, the ability of the sector to create wealth and prosperity for the middle class and energy independence as a crucial factor of national defense. “When we no longer have to depend on oil coming out of the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, that gives us more flexibility to deal with rogue nations like Iran,” Ricketts said. Ricketts noted a California company making an enormous investment in Nebraska to produce carbon black — a material created by burning heavy oil — and used as filler in rubber tires and as pigment in plastics, paints and inks. Monolith plans to invest between $80 million and $100 million in an effort to produce 220,000 tons of carbon black by 2022 not by burning oil, but by using natural gas, which is abundant in Nebraska. Creating an environment that allows the private sector to innovate will ultimately benefit workers, Ricketts said. But Biden’s energy policies would slam the brakes on that. “The contrast here couldn’t be more stark,” he said, comparing Trump’s efforts to grow the sector to the estimated impact of the Green New Deal. “If we (go) down the path of what Democrats want to do, it’s going to hurt low-income Americans the worst.” The Green New Deal began as a nonbinding resolution introduced by Ocasio-Cortez soon after she took office as a newly elected congressional representative from New York City. The plan was widely panned after details such as providing a “living wage” to people who didn’t want to work and canceling cows since they create methane through their flatulence emerged. Nonetheless, the progressive wing of the party took up its mantle and it has become a litmus test for Democratic candidates. Cruz said that former President Barack Obama’s administration had a “deep animosity” toward energy production, seeking to erect barriers to oil and natural gas exploration offshore and on federal lands. “The AOCs and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warrens of the (Democratic) Party who are now driving energy policy — they make Obama seem mild given their zealotry,” Cruz said. Cruz’s harshest criticism was reserved for “idiot politicians” in New York who have stunted job creation by refusing to allow fracking in the state. New York permanently banned fracking in the fiscal year 2021 budget. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania and other states that have tapped into the Marcellus Shale, which also runs under New York, have seen booms in job creation and increased median incomes for workers directly and indirectly connected to the natural gas industry. Cruz also hit California, which is experiencing planned, rolling energy blackouts for the first time in 15 years. “Part of being a First World Country is actually having electricity,” Cruz said. “What does it say that California can’t provide air conditioning because their policies are such a disaster? And what does Biden say? Let’s take the disastrous policies of California and take them nationwide.”

GUEST COMMENTARY: Industrial policy needed to compete with an aggressive China

For years, Wall Street enthused about the merits of shifting manufacturing out of the United States. Globalists on Wall Street advocated a simplistic worldview: “It doesn’t matter where things are made — cheaper is better.” But they overlooked the impact this would have on America’s future economic and national security. And now, 20 years later, the United States has lost almost 90,000 factories, nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs, and a wide array of essential supply chains. This industrial loss has largely been China’s gain. In 2000, for example, the U.S. enjoyed a $5 billion annual trade surplus in advanced technology products. By 2019, however, that had shifted to a $133 billion annual deficit. Pharmaceutical production has been eviscerated, too. Ninety percent of the generic medications that Americans use each day are now imported. And even the raw materials for manufacturing overwhelmingly come from imports. China is the dominant supplier for 23 of the 35 metals and minerals deemed critical for U.S. national security. China’s manufacturing boom has come on the back of horrific environmental and labor practices that have been conveniently ignored for too long. Each year, a massive brown cloud of soot and debris drifts east from mainland China. And Chinese factories spew an estimated 40,000 tons of ozone-depleting carbon tetrachloride into the atmosphere annually in violation of international agreement. China also employs forced labor, including more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other minority groups driven into a vast network of “indoctrination” camps. It’s impossible to excuse these wanton practices, and even free-trade advocates are waking up to China’s ugly behavior. Such lawlessness has allowed China to gradually surpass America’s high-tech lead, and has finally prompted congressional action. Recently, a bipartisan group of senators introduced bills to aid U.S. semiconductor producers and microelectronics manufacturers that compete with China. These are important efforts. But will they come in time? Beijing is intent on global dominance and has already launched a “Made in China 2025” campaign to overtake key industries like information technology, robotics, aerospace, electric vehicles, and medical devices. Wireless networks and renewable energy systems will likely be a key part of China’s growth strategy. And that leaves the United States in a particularly poor position. Beijing already holds a major advantage in the production and processing of raw materials for high-tech industries. That gives them preferential access to the building blocks of everything from lithium-ion batteries to solar panels. And every iPhone that Americans purchase helps to fund irresponsible mining projects like the Bayan-Obo, a Chinese rare earths site that has dumped toxic sludge into a waste pond three times the size of Central Park. Despite possessing an estimated $6.2 trillion in mineral reserves, the U.S. still imports nearly $7 billion worth of metals and minerals each year. This is especially relevant for rare earth metals like neodymium, dysprosium, and lanthanum that are used to manufacture electric vehicles, wind turbines, and smartphones. In fact, China supplies roughly 80 percent of the rare earths imported by the United States. If Congress is serious about bolstering our national and economic security, it must prioritize the rebuilding of key industries. A bipartisan senate bill introduced in May would allocate $10 billion to establish regional technology hubs. That’s a helpful start, but far more is needed. The U.S. must aim for greater industrial self-sufficiency and start producing more of the raw materials — like lithium, graphite, nickel, and rare earths — needed for 21st Century technologies. To reduce strategic vulnerabilities and lessen global environmental harm, Congress should speed the domestic production of key metals and minerals. The U.S. already adheres to the world’s strictest mining safety and environmental standards. It makes no sense to tolerate China’s continued stranglehold over these key commodities. It’s time for Congress to pursue a comprehensive, bipartisan strategy to win the global competition for good jobs and industries. Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Follow him @michael_stumo

Tax credit bond scheme shot down

The Dunleavy administration is going to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider a unanimous decision barring the state from selling bonds to pay off more than $700 million worth of oil industry tax credits, according to the attorney that won the case. Juneau-based attorney Joe Geldhof said a representative from the attorney general’s office called him Sept. 7 to discuss the administration’s plan to file a request for a rehearing of a lawsuit challenging the state’s complex plan to pay off its outstanding oil and gas tax credit obligation, which currently stands at $743 million, according to a statement from the governor’s office. The five-justice court in a Sept. 4 ruling unanimously overturned a January 2019 Superior Court decision that dismissed the lawsuit over the constitutionality of House Bill 331, the legislation to enact the bond plan first proposed by former Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. Passed by the Legislature in the spring of 2018, HB 331 authorized the Department of Revenue to establish Alaska Tax Credit Certificate Bond Corp. for the sole purpose of issuing 10-year bonds to pay off the large sum of accumulated tax credits. The plan was pitched as a way for the state to improve its standing with large investors following Walker’s decision in 2015 and subsequent decisions by the Legislature that the state could no longer afford to pay off the balance of the credits earned in a given year. Prior to Walker’s $200 million tax credit budget vetos in 2015 and $430 million in 2016, the Legislature had appropriated, and the administration had spent, funds to pay off all of the industry activity credits earned by small oil and gas companies each year. The credits were largely issued to small exploration companies that did qualifying work, but they were then often used as collateral for loans issued by investment banks to support additional exploration work. A commonly used credit for explorers with no production and no tax liability had the state paying 35 percent of the cost of qualifying work in cash. The Legislature largely ended tax credit program in 2017 as state revenues remained low and savings started to dwindle. However, the credits earned but unpaid in previous years remained. When the earned credits weren’t paid off in full in the fiscal years 2016-18 state budgets, as had previously been done, the banks holding them mostly stopped lending into the Alaska oil sector. Walker administration officials and Republicans in the Legislature — often at odds over oil tax policy — particularly touted a provision requiring the companies to accept a 10 percent discount off of the face value of the credits they held. The 10 percent discount would allow the state to cover interest on the bonds and administrative fees without ultimately paying more than the sum of the actual tax credit certificates. The court’s 63-page ruling, written by now-retired Justice Craig Stowers, states that along with other factors, “the plain text” of Article IX of the Alaska Constitution controlled the justices’ decision to invalidate HB 331. The state Constitution generally limits the Legislature from bonding for debt to general obligation, or GO, bonds for capital projects, veterans’ housing and state emergencies. In most cases the voters must approve the GO bond proposals before the bonds are sold. State corporations can also sell revenue bonds, but those are usually linked to a corresponding income stream and only obligate the corporation to make payments, not the State of Alaska as a whole. State attorneys contended HB 331 was legal because the bonds would’ve been “subject to appropriation” by the Legislature and therefore would not legally bind the state to make the annual debt payments. They also noted the state has used similar bonding plans to fund projects, such as prisons, without objection. However, Stowers wrote that “sanctioning subject to appropriation bonds would create ‘two classifications’ of bonded indebtedness, solely for the sake of legislative expedience” and records from the state’s constitutional convention indicate the framers rejected that concept in multiple ways. Eric Forrer, the retired contractor and former University of Alaska regent who filed the public interest lawsuit said in an interview that from the outset he believed HB 331 was “unconstitutional on its face” given the tight constitutional sideboards that control state debt. The ruling, he said, will force the oil companies and banks holding the credits to compete for funds alongside traditional government expenses such as education and public safety as the constitutional framers intended. While he objected to the specifics of the plan in HB 331, Forrer said he was particularly concerned over what local governments might do if the law went unchecked, as they could have been able to set up similar bond corporations to fund many types of work. “(The ruling) will prevent municipalities and lighter-weight governments from getting themselves into serious trouble,” Forrer said. “Borrowing has grave consequences regardless of the worthiness of the subject.” A statement from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office noted that the administration will not move forward with a bond sale in light of the ruling. “The Department of Revenue and Law have undertaken an in-depth review to understand the impacts of the Forrer decision,” the statement reads. Geldhof said he took the statement — combined with the expectation that the state will petition the court for a rehearing of the case — to mean the administration is looking a way around the court’s ruling. “It’s clear the administration has embarked on a review to come up with a new scheme,” he said. “The creativity and the ability to find workarounds in the financial industry is awesome.” Under Alaska Court Rule 506, the court can order a rehearing if it determines a fact, statute, or other relevant matter has been overlooked or misconstrued but the petition must be filed within 10 days after the decision is issued. When asked about a petition for a rehearing, Department of Law spokeswoman Maria Bahr wrote via email that the state “needs more time to analyze its options, and to that extent, will be asking for an extension of time to consider filing a petition for rehearing.” Dunleavy spokesman Corey Young wrote in response to a question about the administration’s plan to pay down the obligation that the governor is considering all available options to deal with the situation. “He looks forward to working with the Legislature to come up with solutions that are fiscally responsible for the entire State of Alaska,” Young wrote. Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel, a staunch defender of the initial tax credit program who was defeated in the August primary election, said in an interview prior to the Supreme Court decision that she was unsure if the state could afford to either pay off the credits if HB 331 were shot down or even follow through with the bond plan given a roughly billion-dollar deficit is projected for the current 2021 state fiscal year and state savings accounts are nearly dry. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, was one of the first lawmakers to question the constitutionality of HB 331 in committee hearings. He said in an interview that he supported paying off the accumulated credits annually when the state had the money, but now the lesser, formula-driven amount called for in statute should simply be used again until the credits are paid off. “The oil companies have to come in and make a compelling argument that we should pay above the statutory amount,” Wielechowski said. “Now they’re competing with everything.” According to Department of Revenue projections, the state should have appropriated $36 million in the current fiscal year to meet the statutory calculation but lawmakers and administration officials chose to rely on a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, which turned out to be a losing proposition. In the future the state would have to pay between $40 million and $78 million per year to meet payment obligation laid out by the statutory formula. Initial interest-only payments on the bond debt were calculated at $27 million when HB 331 was passed in 2018. At the time, with higher oil prices and more production tax revenue, the statutory payment formula called for the state to make a credit payment of $184 million. Alaska Oil and Gas Association CEO Kara Moriary said the decision is a “huge disappointment” for the industry and also questioned how it would impact the state’s attempt to fund other activities. “Clearly it reinforces an impression that the investment world has about Alaska — about being an unstable place to do business,” Moriarty said. She noted that the companies that earned the credits simply took what the state was offering for their work. “Those companies are caught up in it. They have done nothing wrong,” she said. “I think the state has a moral obligation to pay them at the very least.” Geldhof insisted there will be a lot of pressure on the administration and the Legislature to prioritize paying the tax credits in the lead up to the January start of the legislative session even with the state’s bleak financial outlook. “There’s too much evidence that the lobbyists and the companies holding these things want to go to the front of the line,” he said. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]


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