US approves oil, gas leasing plan for Arctic refuge coastal plain

The Trump administration on Monday took another step to opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for oil and gas, potentially fulfilling a decades-long dream for Republicans. Environmentalists, however, promised to fight opening up the coast plain of the refuge, a 1.56-million acre swath of land along Alaska’s northern Beaufort Sea coast, home to polar bears, caribous and other wildlife, after the Department of the Interior approved an oil and gas leasing program. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed the Record of Decision, which will determine a program for where oil and gas leasing will take place in the refuge’s coastal plain. “The establishment of this program marks a new chapter in American energy independence,” Bernhardt said during a conference call with reporters. “Years of inaction have given away to an informed and determined plan to responsibly tap ANWR’s energy potential for the American people for generations to come,” he said. President Trump insisted Congress include a mandate providing for leasing in the refuge in a 2017 tax bill. Over the last four decades, Republicans have attempted to open the refuge to drilling. President Bill Clinton vetoed a Republican bill to allow drilling in 1995, and Democrats blocked a similar plan 10 years later. The Interior’s Bureau of Land Management in December 2018 concluded drilling could be conducted within the coastal plain area without harming wildlife. “Today’s announcement marks a milestone in Alaska’s forty-year journey to responsibly develop our state and our nation’s new energy frontier,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement. The Republican governor called Monday’s decision “a definitive step in the right direction to developing this area’s energy potential,” which he estimated at 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil reserves. Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement that the new opportunity offered by opening the coastal plain “is needed both now, as Alaskans navigate incredibly challenging times, and well into the future as we seek a lasting economic foundation for our state. “Through this program, we will build on our already-strong record of an increasingly minimal footprint for responsible resource development.” Environmental groups immediately assailed opening the refuge and promised litigation. “The Trump administration’s so-called review process for their shameless sell-off of the Arctic Refuge has been a sham from the start. We’ll see them in court,” Lena Moffitt with the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, said in a statement. Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, said the Interior decision won’t stand. “The environmental analysis underpinning this decision is so laughably indefensible that either the courts or a future presidential administration will have no trouble tossing it in the dustbin of history,” Lee-Ashely said in a statement. Frank Macchiarola, a senior vice president at the American Petroleum Institute, said the Interior’s rigorous environmental review process confirms the industry’s ability to develop responsibly. “ The industry has a well-established record of safe and environmentally responsible development of Alaska’s energy resources and has been recognized for its success in being respectful of Alaska’s wildlife and surrounding communities,” he said in a statement. “Advancements in technology and commitments to environmental stewardship – including for over 50 years in Alaska’s Arctic – have enabled America’s oil and natural gas industry to safely meet decades of demand for affordable, reliable and cleaner energy.” Bernhardt said the program should stand up to legal challenges or the whims of future administrations. “Congress has mandated these lease sales, and so they have to go forward in some regard. They can’t just simply unduly delay, so that is a reality that Congress created,” he said. “And really, absent a change in the law, the question of whether or not there will be a program in ANWR has really been answered.” The decision makes the entire coastal plan area, or 8% of the 19.3-million-acre refuge, available for oil and gas leasing and potential development. The plan includes protections for habitat and wildlife, the Interior said. This include no surface occupancy restrictions on nearly 360,000 acres and operational time limits on 585,400 acres. Bernhardt said there will be at least two area-wide leasing sales of at least 400,000 acres each. The first will be held before Dec. 22, 2021, and the second by Dec. 22, 2024.

Final Willow review out; production estimate grows again

Oil companies worldwide are struggling to adjust to the immediate pandemic-induced market reset but ConocoPhillips took a step towards the long-term with the Aug. 13 release of the final environmental review of its $4 billion-plus Willow project on the North Slope. Bureau of Land Management Alaska officials backed the company’s amended design for the largest oil development to date in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in the final environmental impact statement for the Willow Master Development Plan. That plan calls for the eventual construction of five drill sites stretching north-south over approximately 20 miles in the northeast corner of the federal petroleum reserve. ConocoPhillips also has two other nearby developments in the NPR-A but the Willow project would be several times larger than the single-drill site Greater Mooses Tooth-1 and 2 projects extending from the Alpine field. ConocoPhillips Alaska leaders have continually increased the expectation for peak oil production from Willow since announcing its discovery in January 2017, from approximately 100,000 barrels per day initially to upwards of 160,000 barrels per day now, according to the EIS. It is being designed with a processing capacity of up to 200,000 barrels per day. Overall, the project is expected to produce about 590 million barrels over 30 years. ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman wrote via email that first oil from Willow is planned for the winter of 2025-26. She noted the company had previously disclosed that peak production rates would likely be in excess of 100,000 barrels per day, but the final rates and overall recovery volumes may differ from what is described in the EIS. Company leaders in Alaska have said it will cost roughly $4 billion to achieve first oil at Willow and full field development will be upwards of $6 billion. BLM Alaska Director Chad Padgett said Willow will provide access to valuable resources as well as jobs and revenue for the state; the members of Alaska’s congressional delegation lauded the regulatory progress for the major project in formal statements. “With this important review process completed, we are one step closer to bringing this massive North Slope development to fruition — including hundreds of good-paying jobs for hard-working Alaskans, thousands of barrels a day in TAPS throughput, and billions of dollars of economic activity — without negatively impacting the environment Alaskans cherish,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan. Conservation groups such as the Alaska Wilderness League, however, insist the review downplays the impact the development would have on waterfowl and caribou in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which is currently off-limits to industry and primarily designated to protect breeding and calving habitat for wildlife also harvested by subsistence hunters. “Since the Trump administration took office in 2017, it has been laser-focused on handing some of the largest expanses of wild lands left in North America over to the extraction industries. The rubber-stamping of ConocoPhillips’ Willow proposal is just the latest example,” Alaska Wilderness League Conservation Director Kristen Miller said, also alleging BLM “fast-tracked” the review in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic despite calls to suspend the process until stakeholders could again focus on analyzing a supplemental portion of the EIS. Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and North Slope Native village corporation Kuukpik requested an extension to the spring comment period for the supplemental EIS. Both are significant landowners in the region. BLM officials maintained the original 45-day comment period and held virtual public meetings on the project in early May. Willow is primarily targeting the shallow, conventional Nanushuk formation that has been the source of several North Slope oil discoveries over the past five years, including the $5 billion Pikka project being advanced by Oil Search. It will be the farthest west oilfield on the North Slope if it is developed. ConocoPhillips proposed connecting Willow to GMT-2 with approximately seven miles of gravel road as well as linking the drill sites with year-round roads; BLM officials preferred that plan over options leaving either the drill sites without year-round road access or limiting surface access to Willow to winter ice roads. The company’s plan calls for 37 miles of new roads, seven bridges and one airstrip. The alternative plan to leave the drill sites disconnected from the processing and operations facilities includes two airstrips. Former Assistant Interior Secretary and state Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash, who led the Trump administration’s work on numerous Alaska resource development priorities, said recently that subsistence hunters often complain that aircraft activity necessitated by roadless oil projects affects their hunts more than permanent infrastructure. North Slope oilfield roads are also generally open to local use and ConocoPhillips will construct boat ramps at Fish and Judy creeks for subsistence access as part of its work at Willow. The company initially proposed building a temporary island north of the project near Atigaru Point for offloading facility modules barged to the Slope in summer; however, the plan was scrapped after BLM officials heard from residents that construction of the island could disrupt coastal and marine hunts, which spurred the supplemental draft EIS published earlier this year. Instead, ConocoPhillips will build 80 miles of ice roads and an ice bridge across the Colville River to reach the Willow development area. Construction will require 495 miles of ice roads in total over nine seasons, according to the EIS. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: Canceling Summer

As we look forward to what promises to be an unusual back-to-school season, we can reflect on what was certainly a unique summer. 2020 proved the summer of canceling, and on both sides of the political aisle. In May, Mat-Su School District attempted (unsuccessfully) to cancel The Great Gatsby, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Things They Carried, Invisible Man, and Catch-22. Since then, progressives have taken up the canceling mantle; they attempted (successfully) to cancel Woodrow Wilson, Cops, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Teddy Roosevelt, Kriner’s Diner, and, for a hot minute, Gone with the Wind. Hamilton and Mount Rushmore still await their fates.                         For the free speech advocates out there, cancel culture is a threat. For those of us harboring dictatorial tendencies, however, it’s an opportunity. I hereby participate in cancel culture, seize complete power, and you all can consider the following books, movies, and other entities officially banned: Iron Man, sometimes known as Tony Stark: He’s too beloved. I cancel him first as a show of my power. Les Misérables: Thanks to Broadway and Hollywood, this story is well-known. Those of you who did not read the unabridged version in 10th grade English, however, missed all of the real misery found in “The Miserable Ones.” The novel is overly long – nearly 1,500 pages. A significant portion of these pages bear no resemblance to a plot. For example, there is a 100-page tangent describing the Battle of Waterloo in detail. The battle takes place well before any incident in the story and has absolutely no impact on subsequent events. There is yet another 100-page tangent on the history of the Parisian sewers. The first 100 pages of the novel take a deep dive into the background of a character who appears early in the book and is never seen again. Finally, central, beloved character, Fantine, croaks on page 200, making it through just over 10 percent of the page count; realistically, Fantine has an outsized influence on pop culture, considering just how little of the story she endures. To this day, I resent the fact that we read this particular opus, as opposed to say, a different Victor Hugo vehicle. If we really must, why couldn’t we read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, at a tightly paced 900 pages?  And why, oh why, did we have to read such a massive, meandering, French novel in a class entitled, “English Literature?” Martin Van Buren: As a gal who prefers more of a clean cut look, I find Van Buren’s choice of hair stylings personally offensive. I am triggered by all photos of his shaggy, shaggy locks. Game of Thrones: I’ve tried. I’ve tried twice. Both times I made it through Season 1, Episode 5. I’ve never felt the need to go back for Episode 6. I tuned in for the last season just to triple confirm I wasn’t missing out on anything. Confirmed.             And while we are at it— Dragons: All images, iconography, or other interpretations of dragons must go. Their fire breathing ways are out of touch with our currently warming planet. The Gatekeepers: Every year in high school, we read a requisitely depressing bit of non-fiction. The Hot Zone, Nickle and Dimed, Fast Food Nation, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air to name a few cheery tomes. The Gatekeepers was about how unlikely it is any student will be accepted into the college of his or her choice. As an anxiety prone eleventh grader who lived my life under intense self-imposed grade-related pressure, my school telling me I was never getting into college was not psychologically beneficial. Given the Great College Admissions Scandal of 2019, I hazard a guess this academic mania has only increased in the last 15 years; ambitious young zealots are being driven to further extremes by their teachers telling them they will never amount to anything. Oh, the Places You’ll Go: The fact that children are being taught they can go anywhere in life except to their first-choice college is cruel. Dune: Locations are called names like, “The Minor Erg.” I’m out. Zachary Taylor: For such a tough guy, his death was unceremonious. He was taken out by food poisoning courtesy of a bunch of cherries and a glass of milk. Such a weakling must be struck from the annals of our glorious history. Puppies: The intrusive little buggers steal all of the attention at parties when people should otherwise be listening to me with rapt, undivided, attention. Romeo and Juliet: Talk about your teenage hormones. The cringe inducing moments were augmented when my teacher specifically called on me to read the sexy bits aloud during English class. We did get to watch the 1968 film version after we finished reading the play. Juliet has a topless scene. That got the ninth grade’s attention. Any book where the protagonist speaks at length about his or her changing body. Given the oodles of media I’d leap at the chance to ban, I look forward gleefully to my career with the FCC. Sarah Brown sometimes goes by YDL (“Your Dear Leader”). Should you care to reach her, prostrate yourself on the floor, and summon her politely at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

OPINION: Rule of law takes partisan turn under Berkowitz

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says the U.S. is a “failed state” and “pathetic” when it comes to its response to the coronavirus. He should know what a failed state looks like. Berkowitz drives through one every time he travels between his office at City Hall and the Assembly headquarters in Midtown at the Loussac Library. But don’t blame what you see on Berkowitz. Nevermind the hopeless population fighting, drinking and drugging, having sex, panhandling and passing out on the main thoroughfares of Anchorage, in the parking lots of vacant buildings and taking over new territory in the shadows of businesses ordered to vacate for at least four weeks. It is all partisan politics. Oh, and racism. When it comes to enforcing the law, Marshal Berkowitz means business. Just ask Andy Kriner. After more than five years of allowing duly passed and ratified laws to be flouted across wide swaths of Anchorage, what finally spurred the mayor to take a hardline stance was a handful of people defying his personal order to stop serving pancakes and burgers inside their small diners. Far more important to Berkowitz was showing these uppity families who is boss than pausing to consider whether his latest emergency order went too far by shutting down diners like Kriner’s and Little Dipper while allowing large-scale socializing inside tents or on patios. In the space of less than a week the mayor showed more interest in the rule of law than he has since taking office by issuing stop-work orders, fines and finally a trip to state Superior Court to pursue injunctions against the most peaceful protests this country has seen all year. By every metric in the municipality’s own police budget document, besides the rising tide of homelessness this mayor has presided over increases in crime, sexual assault and homicide. After ranking better than its population-sized peer group in the federal Uniform Crime Report statistics for the entire decade before he took office, Anchorage now trails the pack. In the 10 years before Berkowitz was elected, Anchorage witnessed more than 20 homicides just twice, in 2006 and 2007, and in the six years of his predecessor Dan Sullivan murders averaged 17.5 per year with just one to three unsolved cases annually from 2009 to 2014. The mayor’s lowest number of homicides was 27 in his first year and then averaged 33 over the next four including the all-time record of 38 in 2016. Not only did homicides nearly double on an annual basis from 2016 to 2019, the average rate of unsolved homicides grew from 2 to 9 per year. After five years of increasing sexual assault rates under Sullivan, from 108 per 100,000 in 2009 to 126 in 2013, that rate declined to 116 in 2014 and 2015. The rate has shot up under Berkowitz, from 116 per 100,000 in his first year to 150, 133 and 158 from 2016 to 2018, with the last year of data representing a 36 percent increase from 2015. As the sexual assault rate increased, the already anemic arrest rate has been less than the last year of Sullivan in all but one year since. More crime. More homelessness. More homicides and more unsolved cases. More sexual assaults and fewer arrests. This cannot be hung on the necks of the Anchorage Police Department. This is the product of the left’s laissez-faire attitude toward petty crime that is proven time and again to result in increases in major crimes like murder and sexual assault. And it comes from the top down. Because the mayor and his equally arrogant allies on the Assembly wave away every protest as political and/or racist, they cannot fathom another reason why residents would line up at diners to show their support or refuse to put their trust in their elected employees who have repeatedly failed and have now commandeered CARES Act funds with no assurance the purchase of properties for homeless services is even legal, let alone a good idea. Just last July after Gov. Mike Dunleavy sent shockwaves around the state with hundreds of millions in budget vetoes, including to homeless services he asserted should be paid for by local governments, a massive tent city protest sprung up on the Park Strip. After being shooed gently away from Berkowitz’s Downtown backyard following a friendly visit to the site by the mayor himself, the protest designed from the outset to be flagrantly illegal was allowed to settle in for more than a month at Valley of the Moon Park. Berkowitz indulged the protesters for weeks at Chester Creek until finally issuing a 10-day abatement notice. On consecutive nights before the campers finally moved on to Cuddy Park, a suspect believed to be the same man attempted sexual assault against two different women at the park. Nobody was taken to court. No fines were issued. The 10-day notices kept up and the camp kept moving around at will despite the mayor’s own declaration of emergency that he has shown no hesitation to wield against people like Andy Kriner. The difference, of course, was that the illegal campout was a protest against Dunleavy. Or would that be too partisan to notice? Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

States strain to carry out Trump order on unemployment aid

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Governors and state labor department officials were scrambling Aug. 10 to determine whether they could implement President Donald Trump’s executive order to partially extend unemployment assistance payments to millions of Americans struggling to find work in the pandemic-scarred economy. Trump’s order allocates $44 billion in federal dollars from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to boost unemployment aid for the jobless and calls on states to kick in roughly $15 billion. The Trump administration says states can pull from federal coronavirus relief funds already distributed to states earlier in the crisis. But some states have already fully allocated that money for other critical needs. Trump’s actions on unemployment insurance and other relief aid were another expansive flexing of presidential authority that could usurp Congress’s power to approve federal spending. The order extends additional unemployment payments of $400 a week to help cushion the economic fallout of the pandemic. Congress had approved payments of $600 a week at the outset of the outbreak, but those benefits expired Aug. 1 and Congress has been unable to agree on an extension. Many Republicans have expressed concern that a $600 weekly benefit, on top of existing state benefits, gives people an incentive to stay unemployed. The White House described the $400 level as an appropriate compromise, and top administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence on Aug. 10 urged governors in a private call to pressure Democratic lawmakers to come to a deal. But Democrats have dismissed Trump’s executive order as a hollow political gesture — not to mention legally questionable — that could ultimately leave millions of Americans without much-needed aid. Several governors said their states simply couldn’t afford to chip in a quarter of the cost, even with the relief money previously approved by Congress. That share would cost California $700 million per week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Aug. 10. The state has already allocated 75 percent of the money that came from an earlier congressional package. “There is no money sitting in the piggy bank,” Newsom said. “It simply does not exist.” As Democrats grumbled that Trump’s executive order was unworkable, top administration officials contended that Trump was taking action while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were sitting on the sidelines — even though the president has not taken any active role in the negotiations. Trump also took to Twitter on Aug. 10 to ridicule Sen. Ben Sasse, calling him a “RINO” — a Republican in name only — after the Nebraska Republican called Trump’s use of executive orders “unconstitutional slop.” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, meanwhile, asserted that the orders were “entirely within the executive capacity of the president” and pointed to statutes she said supports the legal justification to reallocate funding in times of emergency. Some state officials, both Democrats and Republicans, said Trump’s order could prove to be difficult to implement for technical reasons. In Virginia, secretary of finance Aubrey Layne said that timing of the distribution of funds could be an issue. He noted FEMA often takes several months to reimburse emergency costs due to a hurricane, but have reimbursed personal protective equipment-related costs in several weeks. Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation and an expert on unemployment aid, said that it could take several weeks for jobless claimants to see the enhanced benefit given the states’ difficulties in updating their unemployment systems. “No one’s getting a payment from this in August. If they’re lucky, they’ll get it in September,” he said. The $44 billion that the Trump administration has set aside for the unemployment aid would run out in five or six weeks, Stettner added. State unemployment agencies struggled badly this spring and summer under the crush of tens of millions of applications, and in most cases took weeks to implement the extra $600 payment after it was first approved. For many jobless Americans, the enhanced benefit has been the difference-maker in keeping their heads above water financially. “If I did not have (the $600), I probably would not have been able to make it the past two months,” said Rosa Howell-Thornhill, 62, a freelance audio technician from South Orange, N.J., who has seen work opportunities dry up. In Ohio, the benefit might not take effect for weeks as officials sort out guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor for implementing it, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican. Tierney said software changes may be required for the state’s unemployment compensation computer system. Many states also questioned whether they could afford the additional $100 per week in the face of sharply reduced tax revenue. McEnany told reporters that the statute requires 25 percent of the unemployment benefit be provided by states. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reiterated the 25 percent requirement in a White House call with governors Monday, but also sought to assure governors that the Trump administration would find a way to cover money that states allocate for unemployment through future legislation. “We realize that some of you want to use those funds for other things,” said Mnuchin, according to audio of the call obtained by The Associated Press. “And as part of legislation, if you do use those funds for UI, we will agree to make you whole.” In North Carolina, officials questioned whether it was sound policy to use FEMA funds set aside for natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes at a moment when forecasters are predicting a busy hurricane season. “States shouldn’t be forced to choose which disaster victims to help,” said Dory MacMillan, press secretary for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Democratic governors said Trump was attempting to skate around the difficult work of negotiating — something the president as a candidate touted as a natural skill from his real estate career. Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, said the orders “appear to subordinate real relief for unemployed Americans to partisan gamesmanship, making Maine families a pawn in a cruel political game.” Officials in several Republican-leaning states praised Trump for working around Congress to try to help their state’s workers, but some said they were still trying to figure out if the executive order will be workable. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said it would cost an estimated $265 million and “would be challenging and would take some time” to sort out. The North Dakota Job Service, which handles unemployment claims, said in a statement that it had yet to determine “how or when we might be able to implement the actions outlined in the Executive Order and are awaiting further details.” In Georgia, GOP Gov. Brian Kemp praised Trump for taking action amid the congressional gridlock. But Kemp, a Trump ally, offered no details on whether Georgia will contribute state funds toward the $400 weekly unemployment payment. “We’re digging in on that issue,” said Kemp, who said his office is in talks with Georgia’s labor department and budget planning office.

5 key takeaways from the July jobs report

WASHINGTON (AP) — A resurgence in COVID-19 cases didn’t shut off the American job creation machine last month — but it did slow it down. Employers added 1.8 million jobs in July, slightly more than had been expected but far fewer than the gains of the previous two months. And while the unemployment rate dropped from 11.1 percent to 10.2 percent, it remains worrisomely high. The coronavirus outbreaks and the resulting lockdowns and fear that kept Americans away from restaurants, bars and shops hammered the economy in the spring. Employers slashed tens of millions of jobs as businesses shut their doors to slow the virus’ spread. The economy shrank at a harrowing annual rate of nearly 33 percent from April through June — by far the worst three months on record. As businesses began to reopen, the job market came back, recording unprecedented gains in May and June. But a surge in confirmed viral cases as summer began heightened doubts about whether a meaningful recovery can be sustained, especially with Congress deadlocked over proposals to provide further aid to the unemployed and to struggling states and cities. Here are five takeaways from July’s jobs report: Jobs grew, but more slowly Some economists feared that the resurgence in COVID cases would stop the jobs recovery in its tracks. It didn’t. July’s 1.8 million new jobs marked the third-best month of job creation on record. The problem is that hiring was down sharply from May’s 2.7 million added jobs and June’s 4.8 million. All told, the United States has recovered just 42 percent of the jobs that were lost in March and April. And the weakening pace of hiring suggests a long slog of a recovery ahead. Rising viral cases in the South and West have forced many businesses to delay or reverse plans to reopen. In Texas, for instance, just 26 percent of bars were closed as of June 21. Two weeks later, the figure had shot up to 74 percent, though it has since declined slightly, according to the data firm Womply. Moreover, a tentative economic comeback had been supported by a government relief program that included a crucial $600-a-week federal add-on to weekly state unemployment benefits. It allowed millions of unemployed people to afford necessities. But the expanded jobless aid has now expired, and Congress has failed to extend it or provide other financial stimulus to Americans. The loss of that money means that tens of millions of jobless Americans can’t spend as much as they formerly did, which, in turn, means a drag on the economy. “The loss of enhanced unemployment benefits and an inability to pass another stimulus bill will threaten a labor market recovery that already appears to be losing momentum,’’ Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West, wrote in a research report. Blue-collar job growth slowed sharply Hiring by private companies has increasingly narrowed to service businesses, like restaurants and retail shops, in contrast to factories, construction companies, mines and other goods-producing companies. In May, goods producers had added 676,000 jobs (21 percent of new private sector positions) and then 515,000 (11 percent) in June before adding far fewer — 39,000 (less than 3 percent of new positions) — in July. Among factories, the lone exception last month was automakers, now enjoying an uptick in sales because of falling loan rates and some pent-up demand for cars. Auto companies accounted for all of July’s factory hires. Recent job gains, Anderson noted, mainly reflect businesses that are recalling workers they had let go in the spring when the pandemic suddenly struck hard. By contrast, he wrote, “job growth downshifted sharply last month in manufacturing, construction, information and business services, signaling prolonged labor market weakness just below the surface.” Government job gains were likely exaggerated The Labor Department’s July figures show that government at all levels added 301,000 jobs last month, up from 54,000 in June. That appeared to be a surprisingly strong performance. But the government job gains were exaggerated by a technicality: Many local school districts had laid off teachers, bus drivers and school cafeteria workers early this year because of the pandemic lockups — in the spring, instead of in the summer as usual. That change warped the Labor Department’s summertime seasonal adjustments and had the effect of inflating its count of government workers in July. Economists are nervously monitoring government employment. Many have been urging Congress to deliver massive aid to state and local governments that are suffering a loss of tax revenue from the recession and are prevented by balanced-budget requirements from stimulating their economies with stepped-up spending. But Congress has yet to agree on providing any further help to state or local governments. Black and hispanic workers gained, but disparities persist Black and Hispanic workers gained jobs at a faster pace than whites in July, but their unemployment rates remain far higher. The number of Black Americans who were employed grew by 234,000 or 1.4 percent. And the number of employed Hispanics grew by 174,000 or 0.7 percent. White employment grew by 688,000 or just 0.6 percent. African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to occupy the service sector jobs that have been called back to work. Still, 14.6 percent of Black and 12.9 percent of Hispanic adults were unemployed in July, versus 9.2 percent of whites — the continuation of a longstanding racial disparity in joblessness. Many were reluctant to jump into the job market The recent hiring gains haven’t managed to draw many more Americans off the sidelines to look for jobs. The labor force — which includes people who either have a job or are looking for one — dipped last month by 62,000, to 61.4 percent of the adult population from 61.5 percent in June. “With coronavirus cases surging and the economic recovery faltering, discouraged and fearful workers were likely more reluctant to rejoin the official ranks of those seeking work,” said Lydia Boussour, senior economist at Oxford Economics.

Votech schools to open with no online option for hands-on learning

Classes will go on at Alaska’s colleges and training centers where the coursework regularly requires working with one’s hands but like nearly everything lately the first day of school will be far from normal. Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner said many lessons taught at the University of Alaska Anchorage-affiliated school that specializes in industry training, process technology and other field-oriented areas of study were already being done online but a large amount of work in those types of course cannot be done remotely. “It’s more challenging with the technical, vocational type of classes but the vast majority of our process technology is delivered online and these classes have been for years,” Turner said, adding that most of KPC’s other courses are a hybrid of online and face-to-face instruction. “Industry and learning objectives of mostly the industrial process instrumentation courses — industry demands that these students, graduates, get hands on training with the stuff, turning the dials and gauges and working with our big simulator in our career tech center, so those are things that we still have to do.” Still, he said the number of students receiving any face-to-face instruction this fall will be down significantly from more than 1,300 last year to just more 330 when classes start Aug. 24. KPC, which offers classes in Homer and Seward in addition to its main Soldotna campus, is increasing the number of lab sessions and in-person classes this year to reduce the number of students in a room at any time for those who will be going to class. Rooms will be limited to 25 percent of normal capacity and students will be spaced at least six feet apart, Turner said. Students’ digital key cards used for access to campus facilities will be programmed to turn on 20 minutes before class starts and shut off 20 minutes after a class is over; common areas will be closes as well. “Students will come to class, be taught and then need to go,” Turner said, also noting that is a departure from how things normally operate. “Students, regardless of age, they like to talk a lot and sit down and study together and do study groups. That’s over unless they want to go do that on their own at home, but I hope they don’t.” KPC is following the guidance from the UAA chancellor’s office on more general coronavirus procedures and precautions, he added. Masks will be mandatory in all KPC buildings as well, Turner said and there will be none of the traditional public events at KPC this fall, either. “That’s sad because our colleges are such important parts of our communities; so that’s tough to swallow,” he said. The uncertainties and challenges surrounding the impending school year have largely increased ongoing enrollment declines across the university system and Turner said KPC’s student head count is down 24 percent from a year ago and the number of course hours students are taking is down 27 percent despite the fact that recessions often result in more people seeking vocational training. He believes many potential students are waiting to enroll — some may be holding out to see if they will have to home school their own kids or not while others might be waiting to see what the ever-changing coronavirus-related requirements and procedures are closer to the start of the semester. “Within a week of the (Aug. 24) start date I expect we’ll see enrollment increase. It seems to make sense but with covid nothing seems to make sense,” Turner said. The enrollment situation is leading KPC officials to budget for a $2 million deficit on what was a roughly $16 million budget in 2019. Turner said he is trying to fill most of the gap by not refilling positions when they become vacant. On the other side of the Kenai Peninsula, in Seward, AVTEC Director Cathy LeCompte said the state’s vocational and technical education school will be operating at half of normal enrollment for its long-term programs but not for lack of demand. There would still be waiting lists for several AVTEC programs if the school was running at full capacity, she said. What demand there will be for AVTEC’s popular maritime training center and bridge simulator is less clear, according to LeCompte, as it is largely used by industry for short training sessions. In a normal year, up to 1,100 people will go through the maritime center, she said. AVTEC officials are “cautiously optimistic” they will be able to bring students back on campus in the coming weeks, and whether or not that happens will be impacted by the virus case count in Seward, LeCompte added. “We have some programs that we’re able to do online, but for the most part our courses are pretty hands-on intensive,” she said. If students are allowed back, they will be divided into “cohorts” based on their respective areas of study and will live in an area of dorm housing away from other students to limit interactions as much as possible, according to LeCompte. AVTEC’s dorms will be limited to half capacity and, as at most campuses, common areas will be closed as well. “Our gymnasium is currently a hospital — a makeshift hospital for the City of Seward and Providence Hospital — so there’s no gymnasium available and no activities taking place,” she said. LeCompte is featured in a short video on AVTEC’s homepage detailing other virus precautions being taken in which she makes it clear masks will be required across the school. “As a state agency, it’s nice to have the governor’s health team on our side when it comes to face coverings,” she said. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for Aug. 16

Lt. Col. Tim Brower took command of the Alaska Army National Guard’s 38th Troop Command during an Aug. 2 change-of-command ceremony. Brower succeeded Col. Joel Gilbert who had served as the 38th TC commander since September 2018. The 38th TC comprises 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment; 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment; 49th Missile Defense Battalion; and 103rd Civil Support Team. Brower, a career military intelligence officer, is a 1998 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and most recently served in a deployed position as director, CJ7 Force Management Division for Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan/NATO Special Operation Component Command-Afghanistan. Previously, Brower commanded the 49th MDB at Fort Greely. Megan Riebe was appiinted acting University of Aaska Foundation President effective Aug. 22, following the retirement of current UA Foundation President Susan Foley. Riebe has served as UA Foundation Executive Director and Associate Vice President of Development for the University of Alaska System for the past eight years. She has played a key leadership role in foundation operations and system-wide fund development efforts. Riebe has 27 years of experience in non-profit and higher education management and fund development. Before moving to Alaska, she held leadership roles in development at Gonzaga University and Washington State University, her alma mater, as well, as Director of the Washington State 4-H Foundation. Prior to her higher education experience, she led development efforts for two non-profit organizations engaged in natural resource conservation and economic development work on the Washington State coast, and was a private fundraising consultant to a number of community non-profits. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from Washington State and has maintained the Certified Fundraising Executive designation since 2012. She has served on the board of the Alaska Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and was recognized by this group of peers as Alaska’s Outstanding Professional in Philanthropy in 2017.

FISH FACTOR: Bleak summer continues for most salmon fishermen

Unless you fished for salmon this summer at Bristol Bay, it’s been slim pickings for fishermen in other Alaska regions. Salmon returns have been so poor that communities already are claiming fishery disasters. Cordova’s City Council last week unanimously passed a resolution asking the state to declare disasters for both the 2018 Copper River sockeye and chinook salmon runs and the 2020 sockeye, chum and chinook runs at Copper River and Prince William Sound. The resolution also urges the state and federal governments to declare a “condition of economic disaster in Cordova as a result,” reported Seafood.com, adding, “The town of 2,500 is now the first of what will likely be at least one or two others to ask for a fisheries and economic disaster declaration in 2020.” The sockeye fishery at Chignik on the Alaskan Peninsula also has remained closed again this year. So few salmon have returned state managers said it is unlikely escapement goals will be achieved for the third consecutive year. “It’s looking like one of the worst years in Chignik history,” Ross Renick, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told KDLG in Dillingham. Salmon catches throughout Cook Inlet are bleak again this year with a total take barely topping 2.7 million, mostly pinks. Only 748,000 sockeyes have come out of the Inlet so far this season. Southeast Alaska communities also are being hit hard by weak returns; by Aug. 8 the total catch for the region had yet to reach 6 million salmon. For pinks, the catch was nearing 4 million out of an already low forecast of 12 million fish, one-third of the 10-year average of 35 million humpies. Also low were pink prices: a nickel a pound compares to a regionwide average of 33 cents in 2019. For chums, the Southeast catch had yet to reach 1.5 million out of a projected take of 9 million fish. Sluggish chum returns to the Yukon means summer fishing is likely over and ADFG said no commercial openers are likely for this fall. Low numbers also reduced fishing time at Norton Sound where only pinks have again shown up in strong numbers, but with no buying interest. At Kotzebue, a total harvest could come in at less than 200,000 chums for the first time since 2009. Across the state, the peak for coho salmon production is still a few weeks but catches so far are skimpy compared to past years. A total catch of 4.2 million silver salmon is projected for the season. There are a few notable mentions for Alaska’s 2020 salmon fishery. For the first time since 2015 commercial fishing occurred in the Kuskokwim region. Kodiak’s pink salmon catch has been strong and steady, nearing 9 million. Alaska sockeye catches have tracked nicely with preseason projections at more than 44 million fish so far. More than 39 million of the reds came from Bristol Bay but fishermen are not happy. A base price of 70 cents a pound is down 48 percent from last year and “has understandably created anger and confusion among fishermen,” said the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association in a statement on market conditions. In all, Alaska’s statewide, all-species salmon catch for 2020 is projected at nearly 133 million fish. Salmon facts: 95 percent of wild salmon eaten by Americans comes from Alaska, but Alaska salmon provides only about 13 percent of the global supply. Farmed salmon production outnumbers wild harvests by nearly 3-to-1. Buy/Sell Better! Fishermen, registered buyers and hatcheries have a new and easier way to do business online from a single location: SeafoodAuction.net. “Your existing buyers are part of this if they choose to be, and they’re the ones that are bidding. It just makes everything easier,” said Nate Berga of Kenai, the auction creator who has more than 20 years of experience in both Alaska fishing and buying. “This is somewhat like eBay in that it’s a platform for fishermen to go to advertise that I’m going fishing on this date for X amount of pounds of quota. And all the normal buyers that are around here can go to one spot to see what fishermen are going out, when, and how much. So existing companies that fishermen are used to selling to have the opportunity to bid through this platform.” The streamlined SeafoodAuction process, Berga added, is completely above board. “Fishermen often wonder if they are getting the best price and did they call the right buyers. And from the buyer’s side, no one necessarily knows what’s going on or who’s paying what. So this provides transparency in the marketplace,” he explained. The Seafood Auction also can streamline sales of hatchery cost recovery salmon, the fish sold to help fund their operations. Instead of soliciting bids from various buyers, all transactions can be done online. “Hatcheries maintain control in that they approve who can participate in the auction,” Berga said. “If there’s been anyone who they’ve had issues with, they may opt to not let somebody participate for whatever reason. It gives control to the hatchery to decide who is qualified to bid. Once that’s established, those companies can go ahead and bid in the normal auction format where the highest bidder wins.” With all of the marketing chaos cause by the Covid-19 pandemic, Berga said streamlined buying and selling by auction provides a welcome break. “Things are really uncertain right now,” he said, “and this definitely gives them an option.” Sign up for free at SeafoodAuction.net ‘All Hands’ goes online Alaska’s most popular annual seafood marketing gathering is making plans to meet online in early November instead of in person. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s annual “All Hands on Deck” event brings a huge mix of industry and interested public together to “talk fish,” but Covid-19 has corked the event for this year. “Typically, this event is held over the course of several days in Anchorage where we can all get together in the same room and have these conversations. Obviously, with travel and large meetings continuing to be uncertain for the foreseeable future, we’ve had to make a decision with our board to move to a virtual platform for 2020,” said Ashley Heimbigner, ASMI communications director. The All Hands meeting provides a look back at the industry’s economics and trends for the previous year, and a look ahead. ASMI, which is a public/private partnership between the state and industry, is guided by a wide range of committees that cover nearly every fish in the sea. Others provide expertise on domestic and international marketing programs, communications and technical support. Heimbigner said ASMI is researching ways to make All Hands the best event possible and input from the public in a short survey can help. The status of reliable internet for remote participants also is critical information. “What is the most important part of All Hands to you, what topics do you want to make sure we discuss and it’s really important for us to know whether the majority of participants have access to reliable internet and can access video conferences to look at presentations online, or if most of them will be calling in and might not have access to the video aspect,” she said. One benefit, Heimbigner added, is that those who have been unable to attend All Hands in the past can join in, as all meetings are open to the public. ASMI also is seeking committee members through Sept. 30. Find links at the ASMI website and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Steps necessary to open schools this fall

As Alaskans enjoy the later part of an unusual summer, attempting to dipnet for sockeye salmon, strategize hunting trips for caribou and moose, and simply enjoying everything our beautiful state has to offer, there is something missing as we prepare for fall. Soon, tens of thousands of young Alaskans will not be attending school in person this August, all because of COVID-19 and Alaska’s increasingly skyrocketing infection rate. At the start of this pandemic, families struggled to make unprecedented transitions from in-person classes to distance learning. We may never know the full impact missing those last few months of classroom instruction will have on our kids. Still, the growing body of evidence is clear: Children need to be around their peers, have direct access to an in-person teacher, and, in too many cases, simply have access to consistent nutrition. So now the question thousands of Alaskans are struggling with is, “How do we reopen schools so our children do not fall behind, or even worse, never receive the education they deserve?” The answer clearly starts with leadership. From the President down to local leaders. First, we have to provide adequate funding so our schools can reopen safely. Congress is currently debating another relief package, part of which includes education funding. Education leaders across the country are pressing for $140 billion of nationwide assistance to achieve outcomes and increase safety precautions. If we want to reopen our schools, we need to guarantee job safety for our teachers and support staff, protection measures for our families, and ensure every child’s health is safeguarded. But it is not just funding increased safety protocols for our schools; it is how we all live our day-to-day lives in our communities that will allow us to reopen schools. Local communities must do more to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s not just establishing prudent public health mandates, but each one of us has a responsibility as well. Local communities have the ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 if simple protective measures are put in place and followed. We’ve done this before. By canceling large gatherings of people, closing and limiting access to high-risk establishments, and following travel restrictions, we were able to slow the spread of COVID-19. Alaskans need to follow these guidelines and restrictions, including wearing a mask whenever social distancing is not possible. Until a vaccine is developed, these are the tools we have to prevent the continued uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 and to ensure we can reopen schools later this year. The state has a role which it cannot abdicate. Gov. Mike Dunleavy must issue a statewide mask mandate and re-enact stricter social distancing mandates. Many national corporations and local businesses understand the effectiveness of masks and have issued mask mandates for patrons entering their place of business. The state should consider reverting back to some of the health mandates that were issued this spring that effectively slowed the spread of COVID-19. We saw a direct correlation of increased infection cases once the health mandates were lifted. Threats from Washington of holding back funding if schools do not reopen in-person is unacceptable and only politicizes this pandemic. That is not the leadership we, especially our children, deserve. Because we aren’t getting it from Washington, we all have to step up and lead and do our part. To move our economy forward, parents need to work, and kids need to go to school to learn. It takes all of us to realize the situation we are in and take necessary precautions to protect ourselves and our community. We all want to have the best for our children, but if we do not change our behavior now, they will lose opportunities. If you don’t feel the need to take measures to protect yourself, do it for the generation of Alaskans that come after you. ^ Tom Begich represents District J in Anchorage.

AIDEA-Oil Search MOU eyes Pikka project

Officials at Alaska’s state development bank are in early talks to fund basic infrastructure development at the largest North Slope oil project in decades. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority board of directors approved a preliminary memorandum of understanding with Oil Search Alaska LLC on Aug. 5 to investigate the viability of the authority financing road and bridge construction for the Pikka Unit project the company is advancing on the central North Slope. Oil Search Vice President of External Affairs Joe Balash said the Papua New Guinea-based producer envisions the arrangement being similar to that for the 52-mile DeLong Mountain Transportation System for the Red Dog zinc mine in Northwest Alaska, in which AIDEA took ownership of the infrastructure, sold bonds to fund construction and recouped the investment through tolls paid by the mining company. The current design for the $6.5 billion Pikka project entails 26 miles of gravel roads, approximately 70 acres of gravel pads, and more than 120 miles of pipelines. Balash said Oil Search has completed 11 miles of roads extending from the Kuparuk River field and several pads so far, with much of that work being done last winter. In the case of Pikka, AIDEA would issue the debt to purchase the roads and lease them back to Oil Search, according to Balash. He said the arrangement could help the company capture the advantage of lower-cost bond financing available through the state-owned authority. “It’s a concept that at least in the 50,000-foot view looks workable but we need to go down a considerable bit in elevation,” Balash said of the plan. The MOU calls for Oil Search to reimburse AIDEA for up to $225,000 spent from the authority’s Revolving Fund to analyze the details of the proposal. Balash worked to advance the federal permitting process for the Ambler mining district access project — another industrial-use toll road concept AIDEA is proposing to reach remote Interior Alaska mineral deposits — while an assistant Interior Department secretary in the Trump administration. He left Interior last August. At the start of 2020, Oil Search and Spanish major Repsol, its minority partner in Pikka, planned to make an final investment decision on the project by the end of the year, but the collapse of oil markets brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and a Saudi-Russian price war early in the year have forced the companies to defer sanctioning Pikka, which is expected to produce up to 135,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak, according to Balash. Last October, Oil Search filed a Pikka development plan with the Division of Oil and Gas that called for pushing the first oil date from the field up a year, to late 2022 by processing oil from the first completed pad through Kuparuk facilities while the rest of the Pikka facilities were built. Balash said Oil Search still expects to start production in 2025, even though the rest of the timeline is unclear at this point. Oil Search started the year with a “mid-$40s” per barrel long-term breakeven price for oil from Pikka based on the design at the time, he said, and the companies are working to bring that cost down to reflect the new market. Alaska North Slope oil prices have stabilized in the low-$40s per barrel of late but when the price will increase further will largely depend on the lasting economic effects of the pandemic. “Exactly what our schedule is going to look like and what our profile’s going to look like — we’re working closely with Repsol and hope to have an update later this year,” Balash told the AIDEA board. He emphasized that the Pikka project, which many industry advocates have pointed to as the genesis of a North Slope “renaissance,” could provide benefits beyond the companies. “This is not just about the Pikka development,” Balash said. “We believe we have a lot to offer the state of Alaska for a very long time —that will be a substantial and material impact on the throughput of (the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System) for a very long time.” The MOU expires in August 2021. Power line purchase Just prior to the Aug. 5 AIDEA meeting, the Alaska Energy Authority board — the same seven individuals that oversee AIDEA — approved a $15.3 million plan for the authority to purchase a 39-mile stretch of electric transmission lines damaged by the 2019 Swan Lake fire with the help of the Railbelt utilities. The complex arrangement calls for AIDEA to sell bonds to allow AEA to purchase the Sterling-to-Quartz Creek segment of transmission lines from Homer Electric Associationthat connects several utilities to the Bradley Lake hydro project. The Sterling-to-Quartz Creek segment was taken out of service in late August last year as the Swan Lake fire spread through the area and didn’t transmit power again until mid-December, for a total outage of 123 days. According to AEA, the fire damaged about one-third of the 127 support structures along the S-Q line. Homer Electric repaired five structures late last fall to put the line back into service, but another 38 still need to be replaced. AEA Executive Director Curtis Thayer said that while the authority will own the line segment, the agreement calls for the six Railbelt utilities — including HEA — to pay the debt service on the bonds relative to the proportion of low-cost Bradley Lake power they receive. Railbelt consumers will benefit from the cost sharing, according to Thayer. He first said AEA was in talks with HEA to purchase the line in late January. AEA also owns the Bradley Lake project, which it is in the process of expanding . The Sterling-to-Quartz line is owned by HEA but it largely runs through the Kenai Wildlife Refuge and does not serve HEA customers; rather, it connects to the transmission lines owned by Anchorage’s Chugach Electric Association, which start at the Quartz Creek Substation. “By having this purchase you bring the resources of the six utilities to manage and help oversee” the transmission line, he said, adding that upgrading the line could eliminate up to 40 percent line loss as power is transmitted north from Bradley Lake. “There’s both a short-term and long-term advantage to ownership of that line.” The $15.3 million includes $13.3 million to buy the transmission line and another $2 million for repairs, according to AEA documents. The transaction has been approved by the Bradley Power Management Committee — which includes the six utility managers — but must also be approved by the utility boards, Thayer said. Officials with several of the other Railbelt utilities expressed frustration with HEA over what they felt was a slow response to fix the line in the weeks after the fire subsided. HEA leaders said at the time that they were being cautious prevent exposing line crews to lingering ash pits or falling trees and also noted that strong fall windstorms storms on the Kenai Peninsula took manpower away from the Sterling-to-Quartz work. According to AEA, losing access to Bradley hydropower collectively cost Railbelt consumers an additional $13.6 million and resulted in another $2.2 million worth of water being spilled over the Bradley dam. Bradley Lake supplies up to 10 percent of the electricity needed by the Railbelt utilities. At 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, the hydroelectric dam can produce power for about half the current cost of natural gas-fired generation. “I don’t think we would be here if that fire had not occurred,” Thayer told the AEA board. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Executives must overcome fears to adapt in changing times

Employee education and development has never been more important as we navigate the challenges brought on by this decade. Not only do business managers and owners need to rework operating procedures, but new skills are also necessary to stay competitive and provide a pathway for future sustainability during such dynamic times. Employers and employees alike are rapidly working to address a multitude of health, safety, and service challenges; businesses must embrace the ability to grow, adjust, and improve during times of uncertainty. Not insignificant to these challenges, is the need for continued sales, marketing, and business development strategies. Cold calling has become a “new norm” as requirements for social distancing and quarantine make the old methods of visiting brick and mortar obsolete. How does a business create new opportunities? Executives have been forced into cultivating online and over the phone relationships, processes generally reserved for the more junior staff. Outside of learning new technical skills, multiple generations will need to continue honing in on relationship-building strategies far outside of (our) comfort zone. So, why is this such a daunting prospect? According to Patrick Lencioni in his book Getting Naked, the apprehension for executives leads to three fundamental fears: 1. Fear of losing business 2. Fear of being embarrassed 3. Fear of being inferior To overcome these fears, our businesses will need to look inward to refine values and train our staff to not only communicate their value to potential clients but to strengthen their role within a new team dynamic as well. It all starts with focusing on your people and their strengths. Because, when you get the best out of your people, you get the best out of your business. Don’t lose the business. Solve the problem. Along with bringing your unique strengths and perspective, individuals can overcome the fear of losing business by recognizing how we can solve a problem for our valued customers. Outside of our services, our clients are experiencing a unique problem specific to their industry or business. Often these are not complex issues, and can easily be solved by a trusted and objective partner. If we can develop our team to overcome inherent fears of stepping out of our comfort zone, realizing we don’t have to be experts in our field, but rather an expert in the feeding and care of our clients we will certainly prevail. Don’t be embarrassed. Be vulnerable. Gallup’s latest research continues to highlight the need for understanding your unique strengths, and also being able to identify those strengths and talents that do not come as naturally to you. This will help you come to terms with the fact that we have to partner with others around us and utilize the strengths of theirs that we don’t have. With this in mind, when approaching a project or a new client, understand that mistakes in a working relationship are inevitable, and therefore by being honest, partnering with those around you, and communicating proactively, you can increase the trust and loyalty of the group. It’s not about being perfect, it is about understanding your strengths and communicating transparently through them. Don’t make yourself feel small. Highlight your client. Amid so many changes, when you work to solve a client or customer’s problem, take a moment to think about what it took to get them where they are. Part of overcoming the fear of inferiority is to remember it’s not all about you. Take an interest in the business or the actions of the client/customer. Honor the work and perspective that have taken them this far. Demonstrate this respect authentically, as it is not something easily faked. Engage authentically with those surrounding you and understand that developing means first acknowledging the need to learn, and then doing the learning. “In times of great trouble, as the study demonstrates, using the insights that CliftonStrengths profiles offer is a best practice for creating work cultures that acknowledge and honor individual strengths. And leaders who use that knowledge can reduce stress for each individual.” How strengths, Wellbeing, and Engagement Reduce Burnout Organizations with strengths-based cultures succeed because: • They engage their employees. They surround employees with managers who coach them to maximize their potential. • They provide an exceptional employee experience. • It’s not a surprise that organizations with strengths-based cultures experience higher employee engagement, retention, productivity, and performance. Paula Bradison is the CEO of Alaska Executive Search/Bradison Management Group.

AEDC: Pandemic could wipe out 20 years of growth

Anchorage could be facing a lost generation of economic growth when the ongoing impact of the pandemic is added to the lingering effects of the recession from which Alaska had just emerged. Anchorage Economic Development Corp. CEO Bill Popp said the city is likely to lose more than 11,100 jobs this year during a virtual presentation of the organization’s annual three-year economic outlook for Anchorage on Aug. 5. Those losses would take the city back to employment levels last seen prior to 2000, when employers offered about 140,00 jobs in Anchorage, according to AEDC and state Labor Department figures. Anchorage was already at the tail end of a four-year recession — in which more than 6,000 jobs were lost — that Alaska overall had began to pull out of. Popp said in January that AEDC leaders expected Anchorage to add about 100 jobs this year and officially put an end to the recession. However, the severity of the pandemic-induced recession that suddenly took hold in March could result in the “destruction of aspects of our economy” Popp said in an interview. He urged lawmakers at every level to work on finding ways to help keep businesses afloat and prevent large-scale foreclosures or evictions. “Time is the enemy,” Popp said. Unsurprisingly, AEDC officials expect the leisure and hospitality industry to be hit the hardest with the loss of more than 5,000 jobs, or 30 percent of the sector in the city. No other industry is expected to lose nearly as many jobs; retail is expected to contract by about 1,000 jobs, or 7 percent, the next largest loss overall, according to AEDC’s forecast. Passenger traffic through Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport — a key component of the leisure and tourism sector — is expected to drop by 60 percent this year to about 2.3 million passengers with steady growth in the following years to 5 million passengers by 2023. Air cargo volumes at the airport, which is one of the busiest cargo hubs on Earth, is expected to grow slightly this year and remain in the 3 million tons per year range going forward, according to the AEDC forecast. The oil and gas industry, hit hard by very low market prices that briefly went negative in April, is not expected to show major employment losses again in Anchorage offices that were previously scaled back during the 2015-17 price downturn. AEDC is predicting the industry will lose about 300 jobs this year from approximately 2,500 before adding those positions back in 2021. In June, Anchorage had an average unemployment rate of 12 percent, down slightly from May but still far beyond the 5 to 6 percent range where it had been for many months prior. Statewide, unemployment averaged 12.4 percent in June, despite the fact that the start of commercial salmon fishing statewide helped add approximately 18,000 jobs during the month. Still, Alaska was down 37,700 jobs from a year ago, with more than 18,000 of those losses coming from Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, according to Labor Department data. Popp said AEDC expects the Anchorage economy to begin recovering by next year — but the re-growth is not likely to be sudden — with approximately 3,300 new jobs in 2021. By 2023, Anchorage will likely have regained nearly 7,000 jobs, according to AEDC. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Fund ends fiscal year with positive return, but draws reduce value

Alaska Permanent Fund managers navigated the worst market downturn in more than a decade to a small positive return by the June 30 end of the 2020 state fiscal year. The $66 billion Permanent Fund finished the 2020 fiscal year up 2 percent, a return that beat a passive investment benchmark but fell short of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. Boart of Trustees’ strategic return goal for the year of matching inflation plus 5 percent, or 5.65 percent, according to the year-end financial and performance reports published by the corporation. The fund had a return of 5.38 percent halfway through the fiscal year on Dec. 31. The tempered return, combined with the state’s 5.25 percent annual draw of $2.9 billion from the fund’s Earnings Reserve Account resulted in net decline in value for the seventh time in the 43-year history of the fund. Including 2020, it has a five-year return average of 6.44 percent. The Permanent Fund ended the 2020 fiscal year with a value of $64.7 billion, down from $66.3 billion a year ago. The fund has since grown to hold an unaudited value of $66.9 after markets closed Aug. 7, according to APFC figures. Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. CEO Angela Rodell said officials for the state-owned corporation are happy the fund ended the year with a positive return following the coronavirus-induced sell-off of late winter that at least temporarily cratered financial markets worldwide. “I think it highlights just how important it is to maintain discipline in volatile times. We held on to our core convictions and never lost sight of our long-term mandate,” Rodell said of the 2020 results in a formal statement. “In 2018, Senate Bill 26 was made law, enacting the POMV (percent of market value) structure. The certainty provided by knowing how much we need for short-term liabilities, while still executing our long-term investment strategy, has never been more valuable.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaked at 29,551 points Feb. 12 but lost nearly 40 percent of its value by late March before the rebounding on traders’ belief that the $3 trillion CARES Act aid package would protect against a total economic collapse as businesses were closed nationwide to limit the spread of COVID-19. The Dow has nearly recovered from the month of losses in the months since. It closed Aug. 7 trading at 27,433 points. Fund managers moved more than $2 billion into equities as markets bottomed out to take advantage of the anticipated recovery, according to Chief Investment Officer Marcus Frampton. “This orientation of being a long-term focused investor in the midst of the sea of short-term traders has once again accrued to the benefit of the fund’s stakeholders now that markets have subsequently regained their footing,” Frampton said. Stocks traded on public markets account for nearly 40 percent of the fund’s investments. Those public equity investments netted a 21 percent return in the final three months of the year, according to the monthly performance report. The $14.3 billion fixed income portfolio performed the best among the fund’s investment types with a 4.19 percent return for the year. APFC officials also noted that while the Earnings Reserve Account held $12.8 billion on July 1, nearly $3.1 billion of that is committed to the 2021 POMV draw for dividends and government services and another $3 billion is committed for 2022. That means about $5.3 billion in the Earnings Reserve is expected to be available for future appropriations; about $1.3 billion in the account was unrealized gains, according to the APFC. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Anchorage CARES plan doesn’t care about small business

If there was any doubt that Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the Anchorage Assembly don’t actually care about saving small businesses being destroyed by a combination of the pandemic and their onerous and arbitrary mandates, their plan to use $156 million in CARES Act funds confirms it. The muni released the plan on a new website Aug. 10, just a day ahead of the Assembly’s scheduled vote and it is a veritable laundry list of special interest carve-outs, liberal priorities and items that appear to run afoul of federal rules on how this money can be spent. On the same day that the “Anchorage Economic Resiliency Task Force” published an op-ed calling on the governor to save the city’s hospitality industry that is being crippled by the mayor, we learned that the Assembly plan allocates a mere $7 million out of $156 million in CARES Act funds despite their claim that “no group or industry has been impacted by COVID-19-related closures like local bars, restaurants and the like.” Among the authors is the mayor’s wife, Mara Kimmel, which solves the mystery of why Gov. Mike Dunleavy is scolded about his “moral obligation” to help this industry while Berkowitz is not. Let’s review some of the more egregious examples of spending while small family-owned diners are forced into the untenable position of trying to defy the mandates or accepting defeats that may result in the end of their business forever. • Public lands jobs program: $2 million • Renewable energy job training program: $1 million • RuralCAP weatherization program: $2.5 million • Visit Anchorage remarketing program: $2.6 million • Nonprofit stimulus: $3 million • Cultural pillars stabilization program: $3.5 million • Arts and culture stabilization program: $2 million • First responder payroll reserve: $21 million • Proposed property acquisitions for homeless services: $12.5 million Do any of these proposed spending items reflect the Task Force assertion that “the city’s needs already outpace the relief it has received from the State of Alaska”?  Just last week, the Mat-Su Borough appropriated $13 million into a business relief fund and another $9.9 million for individual relief. Out of its $37 million in CARES funds, the borough dedicated nearly 62 percent to businesses and individuals. A large chunk went into purchasing laptops and other equipment to allow borough employees to work from home, which is also an appropriate use of the money. If Anchorage followed the same formula as the Mat-Su Borough, rather than Christmas-treeing its plan with a wish list of the well-connected members of the municipal elite, there would be more than $96 million set aside for businesses and individuals. That would certainly alleviate the need to shame the governor for not doing enough to help. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Oil giants lost billions as pandemic crushed demand for fuel

NEW YORK (AP) — Two American oil giants lost more than $9 billion in the second quarter as the pandemic kept households on lockdown, cutting a gaping hole into a once-thriving business as the need for oil diminished around the world. ExxonMobil lost $1.1 billion in the second quarter, and the Irving, Texas-based oil producer brought in $32.6 billion in revenue, less than half of what it brought in at the same time last year. Chevron Corp. lost $8.27 billion during the quarter, a sharp contrast to the $4.3 billion it earned a year ago. The quarter was one of the worst on record for the oil industry. The price of a barrel of benchmark U.S. crude fell to less than $0 in April, a stunning downfall that had not before been seen in the industry. Producers had been pumping far more oil than the world was using as global travel all but shut down, and storage tanks were filling up. Petroleum consumption fell to a more than 30-year low in April, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Oil prices have recovered somewhat since, but have been stuck at around $40 per barrel for weeks, fetching 30 percent less than a barrel did a year ago and well below what most producers need to make ends meet. As a result, the U.S. oil industry lost more than 100,000 jobs since February, with 45,000 of those jobs shed by upstream oil and gas companies in Texas alone, according to Rystad Energy, a consulting firm. “Simply put, the demand destruction in the second quarter was unprecedented in the history of modern oil markets,” said Neil Chapman, senior vice president at ExxonMobil, on a conference call with investors July 31. “To put it in context, absolute demand fell to levels we hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years. We’ve never seen a decline of this magnitude and pace before, even relative to the historic periods of demand volatility following the global financial crisis and as far back as the 1970s oil and energy crisis.” ExxonMobil expects gasoline and diesel fuel consumption to rebound to levels similar to last year in the fourth quarter, but jet fuel will take longer to recover, Chapman said. ExxonMobil Corp. announced in April that it would cut its capital spending budget by 30 percent, to $23 billion, and its cash operating expenses by 15 percent, in 2020. The company is on track to exceed that goal and is exploring other ways to cut expenses, including evaluating its workforce around the world, Chapman said. The pandemic is also making some of ExxonMobil’s work more expensive as it tries to keep employees safe. “We’ve had to charge planes to move our rotating operating staff all over the globe without the availability of commercial planes,” Chapman said. “We’ve had to lease hotels in multiple cities to quarantine our folks before they start their 30-day rotations.” ExxonMobil produced 3.6 million barrels of oil-equivalent, down 7 percent from last year. That included a 12 percent drop in natural gas production. But it boosted production in the Permian Basin by 9 percent compared to last year. San Ramon, California-based Chevron brought in $13.49 billion in revenue, about a third of what it brought in last year. Most of Chevron’s losses hit its upstream operations, or oil and gas production, including a $2.1 billion hit to its U.S. upstream operations and a $4 billion loss in its international upstream operations. Some of its assets lost value. Chevron wrote off a $2.6 billion investment in Venezuela noting a challenging operating environment there and saying it’s unclear whether the company would recover its investment. “While we are disappointed by the impairment in Venezuela, we intend to maintain the presence in the country and resume normal operations one day,” said Pierre Breber, chief financial officer and vice president of Chevron, in a conference call with investors. “With health, economic and social crises all happening at the same time, this is a challenging quarter for Chevron and its stakeholders,” Breber said. Elsewhere, Phillips 66, the Houston-based oil refining and logistics company, lost $141 million during the quarter, reversing a year-earlier profit. Despite the rough quarter, larger companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron have an advantage over smaller producers because they presumably have better balance sheets and access to capital markets, said Stewart Glickman, energy equity analyst at CFRA. “The biggest unknown is what happens with the price deck, and that’s really anybody’s guess,” said Glickman, adding that while prices have stabilized at around $40, they could fall into the thirties as COVID cases rise. “I’m not really optimistic about the path of oil prices.”

Movers and Shakers for August 9

Quintillion Inc. hired Gen. (Ret.) Charles H. Jacoby Jr. as a senior strategic advisor. With more than 36 years of experience leading military, governmental, and international institutions, Jacoby provides expertise as Quintillion continues to utilize and expand its existing infrastructure to serve and protect the interests of the U.S. and Canada. Jacoby served as the first Army officer to command North American Aerospace Defense Command and the United States Northern Command. Brenda Miernyk was hired as director of sales for Alaska USA Mortgage Co. Miernyk has more than 20 years of mortgage industry experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Colorado State University. Koniag Government Services announced the promotion of Aisha McGill to chief business operations officer. Since joining KGS in 2018 as senior vice president of Operations, McGill has played a critical role in leading KGS’s “Vision of Aggressive Growth” and supporting multiple business functions/areas. In her new role, McGill will focus on the development of a KGS Modernization Roadmap for all business systems, processes and IT infrastructure. The University of Alaska Southeast announced the appointment of Jackie Wilson as its new Dean of Students. Wilson oversees the departments of Campus Life, including Residence Life, the Recreation Center, Counseling, the Health Clinic, Student Activities, the Native and Rural Student Center and more. Wilson received her bachelor’s degree in English from Earlham College and her master’s degree in higher education administration and policy analysis from Stanford University. She comes to UAS from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., where she served as Associate Dean of Students for Health and Well-Being. She has held leadership positions at multiple institutions across the country including Earlham College and Valparaiso University, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Stanford University. Alaska Executive Search hired Hannah Markwood as associate recruiter. Before joining the recruitment team, Markwood served as a temporary staff working for a number of AES clients. Wells Fargo Commercial Banking announced that Michael Orr will serve as Wells Fargo Commercial Banking’s Alaska Business Development officer. Based in Anchorage, Orr is responsible for growing and developing new relationships with local businesses. He previously worked for Wells Fargo from 2008 to 2015 as a relationship manager for Alaska and Seattle banking groups. Before rejoining Wells Fargo, Orr served as a key executive for Bethel Native Corp. Prior to that, he was President of Sitnasuak Native Corp., where he is also a shareholder. Orr earned an MBA from Alaska Pacific University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Alaska.

New owner: Furie going ‘back to basics’ of natural gas

It’s “back to basics” for a Cook Inlet gas producer pulled out of bankruptcy earlier this summer. Longtime Alaska oil and gas industry player John Hendrix officially took over Furie Operating Alaska LLC July 1, which all but wrapped up a complex Chapter 11 bankruptcy process that lasted nearly 11 months. Just more than a month in, Hendrix, a petroleum engineer, said he and other company leaders are focused on mining and analyzing data from Furie’s four wells and the rest of the company’s operation to better understand how production can be improved and where savings can be found. “We need to know our people; we need to know our wells and we need to know our costs,” he said in an interview. Originally from Homer, Hendrix was general manager of Apache Corp.’s operations in Cook Inlet prior to becoming former Gov. Bill Walker’s oil and gas policy adviser in 2016. The formerly Texas-based Furie filed for bankruptcy in August 2019. At the time, the company owed lenders approximately $440 million and was owed about $105 million in refundable tax credits from the State of Alaska, according to the bankruptcy petition. In 2015, Furie installed the Julius R platform over the Kitchen Lights gas field in the central portion of Cook Inlet, which at the time was the first new development platform the Inlet built since the 1980s. However, the company’s financial challenges were significant; Furie absorbed a loss of $58.5 million in 2017 despite netting $25.4 million from gas sales, according to bankruptcy court filings. The situation worsened in 2018 when the company sold $42.8 million of natural gas but took a loss of nearly $152 million. Furie lost $21.4 million in the first quarter of 2019, when a freeze-up in a gas production pipeline kept the company from supplying Homer Electric Association and Enstar Natural Gas Co. with gas for more than a month. Furie officials estimated the value of the company’s assets at between $10 million and $50 million in their initial bankruptcy filings. Furie’s contract with Enstar is currently its only firm supply contract but it has interruptible contracts with HEA and Matanuska Electric Association as well, according to Hendrix. Enstar spokeswoman Lindsay Hobson wrote via email that officials for the Southcentral gas utility look forward to working with Hendrix and continuing their relationship with Furie. “We are particularly optimistic that Mr. Hendrix’s experience in Alaska’s oil and gas industry will enhance Furie’s financial footing and overall gas supply in the Cook Inlet,” Hobson wrote. He initially won a December bankruptcy auction for Furie and with a $15 million bid through his newly formed company Hex Cook Inlet LLC, but attorneys for Furie and its largest lenders — primarily investment firms — claimed Hendrix did not subsequently negotiate the details of the deal in good faith. An attorney for Hex denied the allegations regarding the bankruptcy sale negotiations in February but said they made it difficult for Hex to obtain the financing needed to close the sale. Then in April, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority approved a loan of up to $7.5 million to help fund Hex’s acquisition of Furie; negotiations with another interested buyer for Furie fell apart in April when the coronavirus pandemic sent financial markets and economies worldwide into a tailspin, sources said at the time. That reopened the opportunity for Hendrix, through Hex, to purchase Furie. According to court filings, the final foreclosure sale price was just more than $5 million, but the overall bankruptcy settlement calls for Hex to repay at least $15 million back to Furie creditors for a final cost that will likely be between $20 million and $25 million, according to Hendrix, when the details are resolved. Since taking over Furie, he said the company has overcome a couple small production challenges and consolidated its small contract workforce of about 15 employees from three contractors, two of which were Lower 48 companies, to Anchorage-based Udelhoven Oilfield System Services. Internally, Hendrix said he is working to empower employees in the belief that will help them take pride in Furies operations and strengthen their commitment to running a safe and successful company. “We want to bring ownership all the way down to the guy turning the valve,” he said. Furie previously struggled with its identity at times and shifted its business philosophy multiple times in the few years the company operated in Cook Inlet, he said. Ambitions to drill for oil — ultimately stalled by the lack of state tax credit payments, Furie officials told state regulators in prior years’ development plans — stretched Furie too thin, Hendrix said, but he stressed that won’t be happening again. He noted that the insurance needed to operate as an oil company versus solely a natural gas supplier is a $500,000 per year expense Furie is not benefitting from. Furie, which remains the Kitchen Lights Unit operating entity, is strictly a gas producer and “not an oil company,” Hendrix emphasized. He added that exploring for oil is not in the plans at this point, but could be a long-term prospect if market conditions improve and funding is available. “We’re just very realistic about what our capacity is,” Hendrix said. “You don’t promise the world if you don’t know what you have.” As for near-term changes, Furie is seeking approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to discharge its produced water into Cook Inlet instead of piping about 2,000 gallons per day to shore. He described the produced water as being drinkable quality and said the process of sending it to shore resulted in a frozen flow line that halted gas production in 2019 and forced Furie to purchase $17 million of gas to try to meet its supply commitments at the time. “We’re a clean gas company that makes water with our gas and the water is clean,” Hendrix said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

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