Opinion

GUEST COMMENTARY: A way forward exists for infrastructure investments

Holding the distinction of the longest-serving member of Congress is an honor, but I’m more thankful for the experience and knowledge I’ve gained in those years. Through 10 U.S. presidents, 10 speakerships, and the cyclical flip-flop between majority and minority, I’ve had a front-row seat to the negotiations behind some of the nation’s most transformative legislation. It’s come with no shortage of lessons, but perhaps the most important is an old adage: Where there is a will, there is a way. There is undoubtedly a will for major national infrastructure investments. Regardless of congressional district or state, Americans across the country have long called for action to address aging, outdated, and unsafe infrastructure. Instead, “Infrastructure Week” has devolved into a punchline, and the country’s hopes for smart, targeted investments in their communities have waned year after year. It’s long past time for Washington, D.C., to come together and agree on an infrastructure plan that meets the needs of our modern economy, reforms the permitting process, and puts our core transportation programs on sustainable footing. Further delay poses an existential threat to our economy’s long-term strength, and without infrastructure, our global competitiveness is on the line. We must not risk falling behind the rest of the world. While the momentum behind White House and Republican negotiations seems to change on a daily basis, I firmly believe the path forward is the bipartisan way. That’s why I submitted my own infrastructure framework, which takes a sober look at the situation while steering clear of partisan orthodoxy. Infrastructure is ubiquitous and serves as the foundation for our economy and quality of life. We cannot and should not take a near-term, cycle-to-cycle approach. It’s too important not to receive input from Congress as a whole, making it vital to move a bill through regular order. As discussions so far have proven, it will not be an easy road, but as former Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have no doubt that it is possible. We must remember that Congress is not a stranger to the definition of infrastructure. As a body, we regularly agree on and pass infrastructure measures, such as Surface Transportation Reauthorization legislation, the Water Resources Development Act, and even in the Farm Bill, proving consensus is within reach. Knowing this also alleviates the pressure for one legislative package to be a silver bullet for all infrastructure needs, and directs focus to critical physical infrastructure. My colleagues in Congress should reject the notion that there must be one all-encompassing bill or no bill at all. This is a false choice. Instead, they should replace it with a steadfast resolve to put in place tools that keep Americans safe, improve lives, and keep the country competitive for future generations. If we want to build and sustain a robust national transportation system and upgrade our nation’s infrastructure, we need to commit to a few specific pillars, beginning with an honest funding mechanism. We must also understand that infrastructure investments are not a one-shot deal. Infrastructure investments at every level of government require maintenance and repair. That is why Congress created the Highway Trust Fund, or HTF, and enacted a federal excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuels, which are the principal contributors to the HTF. The “gas tax,” as it is commonly referred to, has not been raised since 1993, and as a result, has lost 40 to 45 percent of its purchasing power. At the same time, federal fuel efficiency standards have resulted in lower gas tax receipts as overall gas consumption has declined. The HTF was created to fund so-called “core infrastructure.” Core infrastructure, like roads, bridges, safety, transit, and rail, are undoubtedly responsibilities of the federal government. Congress currently funds and routinely updates them through so-called “highway bills.” Over the last 20 years, I believe that much of the controversy over how much to invest and where to invest in our nation’s transportation system will be alleviated by putting the HTF on a stable trajectory to secure long-term solvency. That is why my framework calls for modernizing the gas tax to account for post-1993 inflation. To stabilize the HTF, my reforms go even further. My plan calls for a phase-out of the gas tax into a user fee, or Vehicle Mileage Tax, for gasoline and diesel vehicles over at least ten years, and addresses the electric vehicle free-rider problem by phasing in a VMT over five years. Funding for the HTF will be transitioned away from a gas tax and into a user fee-based system. This transition will be justly targeted and fine-tuned, not only to recoup the costs that vehicles impose on the roads, but to ensure that electric vehicle owners, like myself, pay our fair share. Secondly, if Congress agrees — as I believe it should — to spend additional monies on other forms of infrastructure, such as airports, ports and waterways, clean water infrastructure, electrical generation, grid modernization, and broadband, then I fervently believe that Congress should not engage in budget gimmicks, but must raise the revenues to pay for this spending. My plan would include a slight increase in the corporate tax rate, excluding small and family-owned businesses, to offset some of the cost of this additional spending. The increase would be limited to no more than a 4 percent increase to a rate of 25 percent. Congress should recognize that there is wisdom in the “user pays user benefits” principle. Corporations benefit from and are users of America’s infrastructure. The benefits of a modernized national transportation system will outweigh the costs of a rate increase over the long term. Doing the hard work of providing long term certainty for transportation funding mechanisms will go a long way toward giving the market clear signals on where we are going as a nation. And thanks to rapid technological advancements, the world looks and operates a whole lot differently than it did when I was first elected. It will continue to evolve, and we need to plan for that reality by harnessing innovative technology to maximize benefits for Americans in every corner of our country. A look at nationwide broadband gaps and recent electric grid failures illustrate the distance the country must go to meet that goal. For Alaska, the climb is even steeper. Our state’s relative infancy and challenging geography have kept access to even basic infrastructure out of reach for many. More than 80 percent of Alaska communities are off the road system and only accessible by water or air, presenting unique challenges ranging from energy affordability to the need for strong maritime infrastructure. Addressing Alaska’s needs and the distinct infrastructure needs of states across the country will provide the nation with a fortified, resilient foundation, both physically and economically. In the short term, we can expect federal spending to spur job creation in all parts of Alaska and the country, particularly as we continue to rebound from the pandemic. In the long term, we’d rebuild the advantages that allowed our country to prosper up to this point, such as connected transportation routes and cost-effective, reliable power. Additionally, we would maintain our competitive edge by boosting America’s self-sufficiency and versatility. To move Alaska and the country ahead, Republicans and Democrats must find a way forward together on infrastructure. As the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I understood the importance of reaching across the aisle to forge common ground. I know how to get this done. In 2005, President George W. Bush signed my bill, SAFETEA-LU, into law. At that time, it was the largest surface transportation investment in our nation’s history, and enjoyed the support of then-Sen. Joe Biden. Sixteen years later, I ask now-President Biden to give my proposals a fair hearing so that we may set course for the next century of sound American infrastructure. Through my proposal and continued conversations, I’m committed to the process and seeing a bipartisan infrastructure bill pass through Congress. I call on my friends in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to make that commitment with me. Don Young is Alaska’s representative in the U.S. House.

GUEST COMMENTARY: ‘Twilight’ leaders still have workplace skills to offer

Looking for talent seems to be top of everyone’s mind, leaving it to creative problem solving to address gaps in talent at all levels of the organization. Recently there seems to be a trend of Baby Boomers coming in and out of retirement. At first glance many assumed that this was for economic reasons, however during recent interviews we are discovering anything but. During a recent interview with “Bob,” we discussed the outlook for employment for a 60-something. He said that he just isn’t ready to be put out to pasture. His career, spanning over 40 years varied with time spent in a variety of industries, all unique to Alaska. Along the way, like many Alaskans, his career path ebbed and flowed with the economy and with industry trends. What he thought was the end of his career, included a retirement party and a warm send off from friends and colleagues. Just a few months later Bob found himself bored, and he is not alone. In their twilight many executives leave their career subject matter experts within a particular discipline. Tired of the “same old grind” and ready for new adventures, they depart their career finding pleasure in the freedoms of retirement, yet not quite ready to retire their talents completely. Surprisingly, many retirees would rather be given an opportunity to leverage their talents and actually learn a new industry or acquire new skills and companies are better for it. In Bob’s case, he is curious and interested in taking on interim leadership roles. His desire, like many of his peers, is not to consult or move out of retirement completely, but to provide a meaningful and necessary role that supports teams while they transition. In one effort, a retiree might be an “Interim COO” helping to keep operations on track while recruitment efforts are under way. This allows for continuity while leveraging internal staff and ensuring they don’t take on more than they should. Ultimately not overtaxing a CEO or subordinate that would typically take on the role during a transition. The interim approach also offers a fresh and experienced perspective. There is a large pool of able, workforce ready and proven leaders to help where needed. They are far beyond a box store greeter and willing to leverage their experience. Engaging these leaders is good for morale and good for business. Paula Bradison is the CEO and President of Alaska Executive Search and Bradison Management Group LLC.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans should be good stewards of our home

It’s a great time of year, when Alaskans emerge from the long, dark winter and launch eagerly into the great outdoors, ready to experience again the freedom and natural beauty for which our state is so justifiably celebrated. As we prepare to head out fishing, hiking, boating, camping, four-wheeling or sightseeing, Alaskans should be mindful of our responsibility to respect our common natural resources, and recommit ourselves to being great stewards of the lands we love by keeping our state clean and litter-free this summer. We Alaskans pride ourselves on doing things our own way. We “don’t care how they do it Outside,” and we’re proud of our reputation for taking good care of the special place we call home. Our reputation for pristine natural beauty supports a healthy lifestyle for ourselves, and a thriving visitor industry whose benefits extend statewide from city to village. But while most of us do our part to maintain high standards of outdoor care and cleanliness, the bad behavior of even a few can literally trash Alaska’s reputation. Too many of us have seen the evidence in too many places: piles of empty bottles or food wrappers, carelessly discarded fish carcasses, overflowing dumpsters, and the telltale wisps of toilet paper blowing in the roadside wind. Last summer During last summer’s Alaska’s COVID “hunker down” — which most of us conducted outdoors — heavy weekend use at the Kasilof River Special Use Area on the Kenai Peninsula saw dumpsters overflowing with trash and an unsightly campground that produced ugly images in the news and on social media. Sadly, with travel from Outside visitors restricted by the pandemic, Alaskans had only ourselves to blame for this embarrassing scene. Simple practices like “pack it in, pack it out” make a world of difference when we are all sharing the facilities and public use areas. As commissioners, we lead departments dedicated to fulfilling our constitutional responsibility to conserve and develop our state’s land, water, fish and wildlife for the common benefit of the people. As part of this mission, we are proud to support Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “Unlocking Alaska” initiative, asserting state management authority over navigable waters and submerged lands, just as promised to Alaska at statehood. Alaskans can help strengthen this effort by making sure we know who owns the lands and waters where we are recreating and by being respectful users, whether the ownership is state, federal or private. A case in point is the popular Copper River dipnet fishery near Chitina. Those who drive the Copper River Highway to access the public salmon resource at the end find themselves on private land, most of it owned by Ahtna Inc., the Alaska Native regional corporation, and the Chitina Native Corp., the area village corporation. Having endured the damage caused by a few bad actors in the past, these private landowners are justified in charging fees to defray the costs of maintaining their land, cleaning up the trash and repairing damage, and in some cases restoring desecration of Alaska Native burial sites. Such behavior has consequences, not just on a local or state level, but on the national stage, as well. Our state is under national scrutiny, with important resource development vital to our state’s continued prosperity being blocked because of perceptions that Alaskans are not willing or able to protect our own environment. Alaskans trashing public and private land lend credibility to the claims of anti-development forces that we can’t be trusted to protect our own environment. They strengthen the case of those who want to impose federal authority to look over our shoulder to keep Alaska “clean.” We are Alaskans. We respect our communities and love our land. It just takes a little consideration, a bit of thoughtfulness, and some preparation to be good stewards of public land and respectful visitors on private land. If you pack it in, pack it out. Leave the trail or campsite cleaner than you found it. Pick up after your pets. Be a good example of the kind of Alaska outdoorsman that you wish all visitors would be. When we do, we demonstrate to ourselves and the world that we Alaskans care for our land, and are more than capable of managing our common resources responsibly without the federal government or outside special interests telling us how we should care for our own home. Corri A. Feige is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Doug Vincent-Lang is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

GUEST COMMENTARY: Will Manchin, Murkowski, Biden cave to extremists?

Last weekend, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., became a lightning rod for the extreme progressive wing of his party when he stood firm in support of the filibuster. While the term “filibuster” gets thrown around — usually in conjunction with colorful language — a lot by folks in Washington, D.C., it is a sensible procedural step for the majority of America. It keeps a party with a slight majority from ram-rodding bad policies through Congress. It represents a check-and-balance to executive overreach, and in this case, a roadblock to many of the Biden Administration’s most radical campaign priorities; ones that would harm Alaska and our jobs, revenues and in areas related to states’ rights. As it stands today, relative moderate Joe Manchin might be the most powerful member of the U.S. Senate, with Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski right behind him. They, and their centrist colleagues in both parties, can move legislation forward, or kill it in their body. Right now, infrastructure spending, federal voting legislation, Supreme Court packing and the so-called “existential threat of climate change” are being championed by zealots who don’t want compromise, but rather, radical transformations with the way America views and acts on their issues. Without the filibuster, 51 Senators (or 50 and uber-progressive Vice President Kamala Harris casting a the tie-breaking vote) could pass legislation, things could look very different for Americans moving forward. Filibusters aren’t the only topic with fires burning around it in our nation’s capital. Also on the hot seat is an area crucial to Alaska: energy policy. Every Alaskan is touched in numerous ways by federal energy priorities. From fuel prices to upholding legal lease sales, and nearly a third of our private-sector jobs being driven by resource development (not to mention our annual Permanent Fund Dividends), what happens in Washington, D.C. has a direct impact on our day-to-day lives. With the Administration kowtowing to extreme viewpoints on a “just transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, which includes losing American energy independence and ceding energy market dominance to other foreign governments, Alaskans should be furious with most of the decisions coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even the one “win” for our resource-centric economy — Biden announcing his administration would not fight the massive Willow project in the NPR-A — was followed by his Interior Department shuttering development of completed, binding leases in ANWR’s 10-02 area. For you and me, and everyone who works in or relies on our energy sector for a paycheck or to heat their homes or power their vehicles here in Alaska, blocking the insanity of the Biden agenda is a good thing. After all, we don’t want these bills ever seeing the light of day, let alone passing. But for the wildlife-over-human-life activists on the Left, it’s a different story. As The Hill reported last week, “On Friday, a few dozen activists from the Sunrise Movement flocked to the White House — and plan to do so again — to urge Biden to abandon infrastructure talks with Republicans and pass lofty climate change legislation with just Democratic votes. They asked for Biden to directly meet with progressive leaders, including their executive director Varshini Prakash, and ensure the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps that they say would put 1.5 million people back to work. ‘To watch him prioritize Republicans in creating his plan [rather] than the young people who elected him, we cannot let Biden off the hook,’ Audrey Lin, an organizer with Sunrise, said at the Friday protest.” Which leads us back to Manchin, Biden and Murkowski. For the two Democrats, each will be under immense pressure from their far-Left base. During the first few months of the administration, Manchin did his pal Biden a favor by shouldering much of the political pressure. Then the President threw his long-time ally under the bus last week by saying he votes with Republicans more than Democrats (which is not true, by the way). With Manchin taking the high road, but still unwilling to acquiesce to the fringe and move far to the left, the barbarians are at the gate for both men. No wonder the President decided to leave the US for his first foreign trip. Unfortunately for him, many of his problems will be there when he returns. If they can’t pull Manchin or Biden left, the next attacks will be against Murkowski (and, to a lesser extent, Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney). Astute Alaskans have seen the ads on social media and elsewhere imploring the Senator to support the jobs-killing PRO Act, to back drastic climate change legislation and to even support court-packing. Let’s hope the Senator remembers that Alaskans elected her to stand up to radical, job- and economy-killing legislation. Alaska’s bright energy future quite literally hangs in the balance. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director of Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @PTFAlaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Big Tech censoring ‘misinformation’ does more harm than good

Labeling misinformation online is doing more harm than good. The possibility that COVID-19 came from a lab accident is just the latest example. Social media companies tried to suppress any discussion of it for months. But why? There’s no strong evidence against it, and evidence for other theories is still inconclusive. Pathogens have escaped from labs many times, and people have died as a result. Social media fact-checkers don’t have any special knowledge or ability to sort fact from misinformation. What they have is extraordinary power to shape what people believe. And stifling ideas can backfire if it leads people to believe there’s a “real story” that is being suppressed. Misinformation is dangerous. It can keep people from getting lifesaving medical treatments, including vaccines. But flagging it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. It’s much better to provide additional information than to censor information. Part of the problem is that people think they know misinformation when they see it. And those most confident of their ability to spot it may be least aware of their own biases. That includes the fact-checking industry within the mainstream media, who were caught removing earlier posts on the lab leak theory, as well as social media “fact checkers” who aren’t accountable to the public. Earlier this year, I interviewed physician and medical podcaster Roger Seheult who said that he was censored by YouTube for discussing the clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin as potential COVID-19 treatments. No wonder so many people still believe these are the cures “they” don’t want you to know about. Much better would be an open discussion of the clinical trial process, which could help people understand why scientists think those drugs are unlikely to help. Even without the power of censorship, social media culture encourages the facile labeling of ideas and people as a way of dismissing them — it’s easy to call people deniers or as anti-science because they question prevailing wisdom. Of course, there are ideas that are very unlikely to be true. These generally involve elaborate conspiracies or a complete overhaul in our understanding of the universe. Or, like cold fusion and the vaccine-autism theory, they’ve been tested and debunked multiple times by independent investigators. I discussed the new interest in the lab leak with another science journalist who was interested in why so many reporters are still treating the natural spillover hypothesis as the only possibility. We agreed this isn’t like the connection between carbon emissions and climate change, where there’s a scientific consensus based on years of research and multiple, independently-derived lines of evidence. Here, even if a few scientists favored the natural spillover early on, the question is still open. Last year, some scientists rightly objected that accusing any lab of causing a worldwide pandemic is a serious charge and one shouldn’t be made on the basis of proximity alone. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the possibility, or assume that some other equally unproven idea is right. In the face of an unknown, why would the fact-checking people deem one guess to be a form of misinformation, and another guess to be true? And the lab leak idea got conflated in some people’s minds with conspiracy theories that the virus was deliberately created and released for population control or some other nefarious agenda. But a lab leak could have involved a perfectly natural virus that a scientist collected, or virus that was altered in some well-intentioned attempt to understand it. Writing in his blog, journalist and Bloomberg contributor Matthew Yglesias calls it a media fiasco. “(T)he mainstream press … got way over their skis in terms of discourse-policing.” He admits he Tweeted his disapproval of a thoughtful, well-written New York Magazine piece that helped revive the lab leak debate last January. The author — novelist Nicholson Baker — didn’t claim any smoking gun, but made a convincing case that the issue was still open. A Medium piece by former Times writer Nicholas Wade added little to what Baker said, but came at a time when the pubic was ready to reconsider. A recent Vanity Fair account details how the issue was suppressed inside the U.S. government. Looking back, there really wasn’t that much new news to report. Very little new evidence has been uncovered over the last year. The pandemic’s origin is still unknown. The fiasco was the media’s propagation of the lie that the issue was settled and that anyone questioning it might be deemed an idiot or conspiracy theorist. And maybe the intentions of the Facebook fact checkers were good. If there was magical way to identify misinformation, then social media platforms could do more to refrain from spreading it. Suppressing ideas they don’t like isn’t the way. Yesterday I had a long talk with someone who volunteers at a girls’ school in India, and she said she’d been in contact with some students who expressed fear of COVID-19 vaccines, even though their neighborhood has been ravaged by the pandemic. When she gave them additional information, about relatively greater danger of the disease, they chose to get vaccinated. What helped was not taking away information but giving people additional information. Censoring information — or what one deems “misinformation” — isn’t as helpful as it seems. The best we can do is keep questioning, and give people the most complete story we can. Faye Flam is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and host of the podcast “Follow the Science.” She has written for the Economist, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Psychology Today, Science and other publications.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans want to keep right to work for themselves

Alaskans have always had an independent, pioneering spirit. It is no surprise then, that a recent poll commissioned by the Alaska Chamber, Alaska Trucking Association, Alaska Support Industry Alliance and the Associated General Contractors of Alaska found, by a 3-to-1 margin, Alaskans prefer the right to work for themselves when, where and for whom they want. A new law under consideration by the U.S. Senate, the “Protecting the Right to Organize” Act or PRO Act, would limit not only Alaskans’ work choices but also our businesses’ ability to adapt. While supporters of the PRO Act claim it is a tool to support workers, its provisions deprive workers of fundamental rights, significantly reduces workers’ options to choose independent contract work, and increases costs on small businesses by requiring them to hire full-time staff at a time when many are trying to get back on their feet. One of the most concerning elements of the PRO Act is the inclusion of a more restrictive form of the “ABC” test, which is used to determine if someone should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor. California included this “ABC” test in their disastrous 2019 “Assembly Bill 5” only to find it prevented everyone from teachers to writers to retirees from working as independent contractors. To date, California has passed dozens of “exemptions’” to the bill and they are still going. Our poll found Alaskans don’t want to repeat California’s mistakes around independent contractors. When Alaskans learned more about how the PRO Act would drastically alter current federal labor laws and significantly affect who was able to be an independent contractor in Alaska, more than 60 percent of Alaskans opposed the bill. This was true even among current union members who opposed the PRO Act by 57 percent after learning about its provisions. What’s more, 85 percent of Alaskans agreed that it was important they be able to choose to work as independent contractors. More than 80 percent believe federal laws should continue to protect the rights of Alaskans to work as independent contractors. Alaska’s federal representatives should take heed: Alaska’s workers don’t want new mandates or classifications. Instead, they overwhelmingly want to preserve their choice to be independent contractors and work when and for whom they choose. Further, Alaska’s businesses — like many around the country — are struggling to fill vacancies as pandemic restrictions are eased and consumer confidence grows. Additional regulatory costs and restrictions on businesses already unable to find workers will only further hamper their ability to reset and restart after struggling through the last 15 months. Now is not the time to implement failed California policies that dictate relationships between workers and businesses. It didn’t work for California, and it certainly won’t work for Alaska. Alicia Siira is executive director of Associated General Contractors of Alaska. Joe Michel is executive director of the Alaska Trucking Association. Rebecca Logan is president and CEO of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance. Kati Capozzi is president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Road Rage, Or Why All Other Drivers Should Be Annihilated

My name is Sarah, and I suffer from road rage. You’d think living in a state with relatively little traffic, like Alaska, would have cured me of this illness. Alaska has nothing but wide-open spaces, but even this, unfortunately, has not calmed me. If anything, it may be making my road rage worse. My fellow Alaskans are, by and large, a laidback bunch. In conjunction with this laissez-faire attitude towards life, drivers do not give much thought to when they will arrive at their destination, and instead toddle along, nary a care in the world. On the other hand, I care very much about my destination and would like to arrive there sometime this calendar year, people, please! I wasn’t always this frustrated. As a newly minted driver with a learner’s permit in Fairbanks, I was very intimidated by the rules of the road. All the other cars dwarfed my first car, a 1997 Nissan Maxima. It had once belonged to my grandmother, and much like my grandmother, the car offered shelter and comfort. Also much like my grandmother, the car was smaller than others of its kind in the wild. My grandmother topped off at a whopping five feet tall and would often complain that the world was not made for people her size. An early adopter of microaggressions, she maintained her whole life that the world discriminated against short people. I would hear her small voice muttering to herself when reaching for things in the cabinets, when climbing into cars, and when sitting in chairs. “Everyone is against us! The world hates short people!” As I scooted around Fairbanks in my grandmother’s car as a teenager, I too adopted my grandmother’s ethos. Trucks would loom over me, vans would steam by me, and I would clutch the steering wheel in a death grip. My dad, in his designated role as driving instructor, would sit stone-faced in the passenger seat beside me. Even though I could not bring myself to drive faster than 45 miles per hour, his foot would stamp the floor where the brake pedal would be so hard the car would rock side to side. As a baby driver, I would get lost in my miniature hometown, drive many miles under the speed limit, and freak out if I encountered a one-way street. I once took the wrong exit off the Johansen Expressway, could not figure out how to get back on the expressway, turned around, and drove the wrong way up the exit ramp. There was absolutely no traffic on the road (it was Fairbanks after all), but I was sure I would be arrested at any moment for the high crime of being a dingbat. As we all know, however, with practice comes confidence. As I matured in my driving, I had the temerity to approach the speed limit, make left turns, and choose a lane other than the right. Having mastered the art of the turn, my confidence blossomed into aggression. My fear of my fellow drivers had been replaced with a blind resentment. Who were these other vehicles taking over the road? This place was not big enough for me, my Nissan Maxima, and them too! This only got worse after I started driving in major metropolitan areas outside of Fairbanks. Drivers on the East Coast are not afraid to drive 80 miles per hour, merge aggressively, or block traffic so they can cut into a long line. Boston was the first place I saw taxi drivers run red lights more often than stop. Man, did those guys have game. I learned much from these driving giants, and my fellow Alaskans could stand some similar tutelage. For example, upon moving back to Anchorage, I was devastated by my fellow residents’ complete and utter inability to use the passing lane. Rather than passing the car on the right, and then dutifully moving back into the right-hand lane, drivers simply treated the passing lane as another lane. Two lines of cars, equal in length, meander along together, and I am back at the end of the line calling everyone around me a deadhead. But the crème-de-la-crème of triggering behavior: nothing sends me into a fury faster than a car which pulls into the left lane, speeds up to pass the car on the right, reaches the car, and then slows down to drive the exact same speed as the car next to it. People! I beg of you! There is no point in getting into the left lane, speeding up to the car in front of you, and then driving the exact same speed. For crying out loud, just drive the same speed behind them in the right lane. Don’t be a monster! I’ve spent many hours profiling my fellow drivers, trying to ascertain who amongst me is an obstacle, and who is a fellow traveler; an ally, if you will, merely trying to get to his appointed destination. For example, I always try to follow a truck; they go faster and drive with purpose. I avoid Subarus, as those drivers are nearly always overly cautious. Stay away from boats, buses, and gaggles of RVs. The worst of the worst drivers, however, is a very specific breed of truck driver who views being passed as an afront to his manhood. This driver will go out of his way to drive slowly on one-lane streets, block the sections of road where there is a passing lane, and then saunter back to the one lane once the passing lane is dispensed with, satisfied he has ruined everyone’s day. I will be driving south this weekend for Memorial Day. May those who cross my path be speedy. Sarah Brown takes many deep breaths. Write to her on pain of death 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.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Thanks for nothing, Chris Cuomo

Thanks for nothing, Chris Cuomo. The public’s trust in traditional media is at an all-time low, with 56 percent of Americans agreeing with the statement that, “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations,” according to data reported by Axios. It doesn’t help that former President Donald Trump spent his campaign and time in office popularizing the term “fake news” and branding journalists “the enemy of the people.” It doesn’t help that social media has blurred the lines, almost to the point of erasure, between vetted, fact-checked information and the rantings of ill-informed ideologues. And it doesn’t help that 68 percent of Americans usually get their news from television, where many cable news hosts have abandoned all pretense of objectivity in favor of the sweet lure of ratings — ratings that are easier to achieve when you sow outrage and fear, rather than deliver insights and context. It’s within that landscape that Cuomo, the host of CNN’s nightly show “Cuomo Prime Time,” joined strategy session phone calls with the staff of his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to discuss the handling of sexual harassment allegations against the governor. “The cable news anchor encouraged his brother to take a defiant position and not to resign from the governor’s office,” the Washington Post reported Thursday. “At one point, he used the phrase ‘cancel culture’ as a reason to hold firm in the face of the allegations, two people present on one call said.” Chris Cuomo set an uncomfortable precedent last year when he invited his brother onto his show for frequent coronavirus updates and conversations early in the pandemic — a boundary that many journalists (including me) believed he shouldn’t have crossed. And revelations that Chris Cuomo got special access to state-administered COVID-19 tests when his brother’s administration dispatched state health officials to his relatives’ homes and expedited their test results, reported first in the Washington Post, are exactly why. Newsrooms often go to great lengths to prevent their employees from partaking in any activity that could even imply a conflict of interest. At the Chicago Tribune, we sign a pages-long ethics policy every year that mandates we don’t accept gifts from sources, don’t offer or accept favors to or from people, don’t participate in political rallies or protests, don’t donate money to politicians or candidates for elected office. The rules apply to everyone — reporters, editors, photographers, page designers. And — this is important — opinion writers. Because whether you’re encouraged to keep your opinions out of your work — as reporters are — or encouraged to let your opinions inform and populate your work — as columnists and critics are — you still need to avoid, at all costs, appearing beholden to anyone. Especially a politician — even if he or she is family. Your words — written or spoken, opinion-free or opinionated — are supposed to come from a pure, uncompromised place. It’s why I could write a column saying I liked Elizabeth Warren’s ideas, but I couldn’t contribute to her presidential campaign. I can’t have a vested, financial interest in her success. My words can’t be an attempt at securing myself a good return on investment. CNN is walking an uncomfortable line here. By choosing not to discipline Chris Cuomo, they’re making it hard for viewers to trust that the network’s reports and analysis are uncompromised by employees’ personal connections. The network is also asking viewers to trust its past and future stories about sexual harassment, even as it employs a guy who participated in the active brushing off of numerous women’s allegations, simply because they were made against his brother. That’s a tough sell, and it should be. It’s not so different from Fox News continuing to employ Sean Hannity, even as he acted as an adviser to Trump. It’s frustrating, both as a journalist and as an consumer of news and analysis, to see such blatant conflicts of interest shrugged off by both the folks participating in the conflicts and their employers, particularly when their employers play such an outsize role in shaping public opinion of the media. It erodes public trust at a time when it’s imperative for people to receive and believe the news — for public safety, for the wellbeing of our communities, for the health of our democracy. And trust, once it’s gone, is incredibly difficult to win back.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Federal permitting stands in way of infrastructure bill

The Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan talks about a climate crisis and an affordable housing crisis in its attempt to address the country’s infrastructure crisis. But before it can make serious progress on any of those issues it will need to address another crisis: federal permitting. President Joe Biden recently met with Republican senators to discuss building bipartisan support around infrastructure. His American Jobs Plan proposes spending an estimated $2.3 trillion, plus $400 billion in tax credits, to be offset by $2.1 trillion in additional tax revenue. Objectives include modernizing 20,000 miles of roads, 10,000 bridges, replacing lead drinking water lines, 100 percent national broadband coverage and, most ambitious of them all, overhauling the entire U.S. economy to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But the federal government stands in its own way in accomplishing any of those goals. Many large infrastructure projects, especially linear projects such as utility lines that can cover hundreds of miles of right-of-way, are subject to a slew of federal, state and local permits and other authorizations. Most prominent among those is the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA. The average time to complete an environmental impact statement — the type of analysis required for most major infrastructure projects — is 4.5 years, with some reviews taking over 10 years, according to a 2020 report from the White House Council on Environmental Quality that examined submissions from 2010 to 2018. Once approved, the most controversial projects, which are often also the largest, are subject to litigation from opponents searching for any vagaries in the law or process that they can exploit, delaying projects by an average of another two years. In 2020, the White House Council on Environmental Quality revised the NEPA regulations for the first time in more than 40 years. Many of those reforms relied on objectives outlined in the original statute and regulations, which called for striking a balance between economic, technical and public good considerations. The 2020 reforms established a “One Federal Decision” framework to streamline the approval process, providing senior level oversight of the timeline and limiting the length of submissions. For substantially similar activity, the reforms allowed for the re-use or substitution of environmental documents and public input processes conducted under other environmental laws. To help reduce litigation over interpretations of the rules, vaguely written regulatory language was clarified with more specific guidance.Upon rollout of the revised NEPA regulations in 2020, businesses both large and small from nearly every part of the U.S. economy issued statements supporting the changes. Unfortunately, the reforms have been challenged in multiple U.S. courts by both environmental groups and several states, prompting the Department of Justice to ask for time to review the reforms so the Biden administration can submit its own version. In the meantime, there are ominous indications that the rapid expansion of clean energy infrastructure in the U.S. is already running into permitting problems. Leaders from the Atlantic fisheries recently boycotted a public meeting to discuss future wind energy leases offshore New York and New Jersey, stating that there have been “no accommodations to mitigate impacts from individual developers” and calling the permitting process “broken.” There are currently 16 construction and operations plans for offshore wind farms winding their way through the lengthy NEPA process in the federal government. Elsewhere, environmental litigants are challenging the New England Clean Energy Connect, a $1 billion project that will provide 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy to the New England grid, with the Sierra Club calling the project an “environmental crime.” Perhaps one can take comfort in the single line in the American Jobs Plan that refers to “smart, coordinated infrastructure permitting,” but color me a skeptic. Brenda Mallory, the current chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, refused to endorse the need for more efficient timelines during her confirmation hearing. In fact, the sole change in the 2020 revisions that she endorsed was expanded engagement by Tribal Nations, suggesting this administration might follow the example of the Obama years, when officials lay down on the tracks to prevent meaningful reforms to NEPA. One thing you can count on: the tracks won’t be high speed rail, because those won’t be built for many years if all the recent improvements to NEPA are discarded. A bipartisan approach to NEPA permitting reform is still possible by focusing on these three key elements: • Implement the “One Federal Decision” framework to structure interagency coordination. • Establish presumptive time limits for approvals, reinforced by senior level oversight by the department leading the review. • Authorize greater use of the existing trove of federal, state and tribal environmental documents and administrative processes. These reforms won’t address all the reasons for delays, but they will help. The country has a solid foundation to create sensible permitting reform — let’s not waste valuable taxpayer funds in a slow and inefficient pursuit of the next generation of American infrastructure. Stuart Levenbach has held positions in three presidential administrations, including in the Office of Management of Budget, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and most recently as senior adviser to the former director of the National Economic Council.

OPINION: Assembly’s retreat gives Bronson room to govern

Two things have become clear over the past four weeks in Anchorage, one that was always more certain than the other. First, we found out that the Anchorage Assembly has, and indeed always had, the power to revise or revoke the emergency orders handed down from the mayor’s office. Second, as Dave Bronson’s lead grew to 1,212 votes in the runoff election for mayor as of May 18, we have learned that contra the supposed conventional wisdom, an unapologetic and unashamed conservative can still win a citywide race in Anchorage. The fact Joe Biden won Anchorage last fall and the Assembly’s ideological tilt is more lopsided than the last moments of the Titanic led a few prognosticators along with former candidate Bill Evans to assert that Bronson stood no chance in a one-on-one race against Forrest Dunbar. Appeals to Bronson supporters to make the “safe” vote for Evans fell on deaf ears — he didn’t crack 10 percent in the general election — and their significant advantage of enthusiasm and motivation appear to have carried him to victory. Evans’ refusal to endorse Bronson proved equally unimportant. During the April 6 general election, the three candidates to the right of Dunbar and his fellow progressives earned 50.3 percent of the vote. As of the most recent results, Bronson stands at 50.7 percent. A general rule about politics is that it is better to be voting for something, and Bronson supporters had that in spades even as much of what they were for was being against what Dunbar and his progressive cohort on the Assembly have put the city through over the past year. In contrast, Dunbar didn’t run on any accomplishments other than having been twice elected to the Assembly following an unsuccessful challenge to Dean of the U.S. House Don Young in 2014. The greatest accomplishment Dunbar could actually point to — other than funding more cops in a position also supported by Bronson — was his vote on April 27 to lift every pandemic prohibition other than the mask mandate. In a vote that telegraphed his desperation, Dunbar joined with Chris Constant to override the mayor, the city Health Department and the CDC guidelines in place at the time. Now it is quite obvious that adopting Bronson’s campaign platform did not help Dunbar as much as he may have hoped it would. Then as he departed for National Guard duty, he all but conceded the race and was not present when eight Assembly members voted to make effective immediately Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s release from the mask mandate she had scheduled for May 21 just hours earlier. With only one dissent from Meg Zalatel, the Assembly belatedly exerted the power they always had to moderate or eliminate emergency orders yet had refused to do for more than a year despite the pleadings from the people who flocked to Bronson for change. Whether they intended to or not, the Assembly opponents of Bronson have done him a favor. He should now be able to take office July 1 and inherit a city coming back to life from the damaging and often heartless orders issued by successive mayors and unfailingly — until now — upheld by the Assembly. The progressive elected officials paid a price for their refusal to moderate, their misplaced priorities, and the highly questionable line items where they sent CARES Act money. Bronson has breathing room to govern at a time when what the municipality needs more than anything is a steady hand on the till as businesses begin to recover. He has a chance to help shape the next tranche of $51 million in federal relief money, which may be a good place to fund his promise to rebate property tax payments for businesses that were shuttered by government order. Although he was smeared as simply wanting to jail the homeless, he expressed his support for the success of the mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena that not only provided a roof but the connections to services sought by many who are willing to seek the help. Based on the 9th Circuit court case so often cited over the past several years as an excuse for doing nothing, Bronson can recognize that a core piece of that ruling is that people cannot be cited for public trespassing when there is no shelter space available. The tragedy of people drinking themselves to death at our busiest intersections and the illegal and environmentally degrading camping through the greenbelts cannot be resolved without sufficient shelter space and resources. That is not to say that criminalizing crime can’t be a part of the policy. The right to sit on a corner doesn’t include the right to drink, use drugs, or do the things Bronson said belong “behind bathroom or bedroom doors.” Even though he will take office at the warmest time of the year, Bronson will be sworn in at a time when the political temperature should also be as low as its been in nearly a year. Expecting a honeymoon may be unrealistic, though, with critics stacked against him across the press and the Assembly chambers. Some enterprising person has probably already purchased “recallbronson.com”. Bronson fought hard for this, and his supporters deserve to enjoy their touchdown dance rather than immediately being lectured about compromising. What’s also certain is this: winning was hard, but governing is going to be even harder. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Show us the money, redux: Alaskans respond to budget challenge

Last fall, we asked Alaskans to “show us the money” using a new website that models the State of Alaska’s fiscal year 2022 budget challenge. Using the current year budget as a baseline and incorporating the then-most current revenue projections, the website started with a projected $1.3 billion dollar deficit. Alaskans were invited to try their hand at filling the gap. A lot has happened since then, but one thing remains the same – the State of Alaska has a structural budget problem that can’t be solved with short-term federal dollars or further delays. Since last fall, we’ve heard from more than 2,100 Alaskans. Using the Alaska Budget Choices web site, they showed us how they would increase or decrease spending; increase or decrease current taxes; add new taxes; modify the draw from Permanent Fund income; designate a level for the dividend; and create their own unique solution. We’ll share more about the results below but first a few reminders. It was never our intention to put forward a single budget solution. Our purpose was to engage Alaskans in a process to better understand the challenges and difficult choices ahead. We reached out to all Alaskans through the news media, social media, email marketing, speaking engagements, and referrals. It was a challenging time with the pandemic, economic worries, and a contentious presidential election all vying for Alaskans’ attention and airtime. We are pleased so many Alaskans took the time to grapple with the challenge of balancing the state budget. We promised to share the results with elected officials. Last week, we sent extracts from the results to all members of the Alaska State Legislature. Those extracts use zip codes to approximate each legislator’s district. The results surprised us. We learned a lot about our fellow Alaskans, mostly that the public conversation about the budget hasn’t really reflected the measured steps that most Alaskans would take if they were the decision makers. Respondents clearly affirmed the need to protect the Alaska Permanent Fund by following a sustainable percent of market value formula draw. When it comes to dividends, the vast majority of responses landed on holding the line or suspending the dividend until we can afford it. In terms of spending, for the most part, respondents favored holding the line on more cuts and maintaining current levels of service. On the revenue side, most respondents favor holding the line on corporate and resource taxes. However, opinions were more diverse and varied when it came to use taxes, an income tax, and a statewide sales tax. We want all Alaskans to see the results as well. The full report can be accessed at: https://bit.ly/2RuhQ2R We hope the Alaska Budget Choices project has provided participants with a greater understanding and appreciation for the challenges facing our legislators. We also hope it has prepared participants to more fully engage with their legislators on this most important topic. As the regular session marches toward a conclusion and the legislature moves into the first of two special sessions, it is imperative for citizens to remain engaged. Stay informed about the budget options under consideration. Reach out to your legislators. It is not hyperbole to say that the future of our state hinges on the decisions that will be made in Juneau in the coming days. Cheryl Frasca is a former director of the Alaska Office of Management and Budget, and former director of the Municipality of Anchorage Office of Management and Budget. Eric Wohlforth is an attorney, and former Trustee with the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. He served as the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue in the early 1970s.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Don’t repeat Europe’s vaccine catastrophe

For many Americans, the calamitously slow vaccine roll-out in countries like Germany, France, and Italy comes as a surprise. After all, in the early days of the pandemic, Europe’s response to the crisis seemed highly competent, especially compared to the United States. But the sluggish vaccination campaign in these nations is actually quite predictable. For years, European policymakers have imposed strict price controls on new pharmaceuticals; and those price caps have delayed patients’ access to cutting-edge medicines. The same story is now playing out with COVID-19 vaccines. Amazingly, Congress is now seeking to emulate Europe’s failed price control policies. Europe’s botched vaccine rollout ought to make lawmakers reconsider. Four months after the first COVID-19 vaccine earned authorization, large portions of Europe are still struggling to inoculate their populations. In Germany, Italy, and France, only about 25 percent of patients have received at least one vaccine dose. Consider that the United States — which is far more populated than any of those three nations — has administered at least one dose of the vaccine to more than half the adult population, and has fully vaccinated three in 10 people. How to explain Europe’s sluggish vaccine rollout? While there is no single cause, one major factor is the European Union’s obsession with paying less for COVID-19 immunizations than many other countries. Whereas Israel — by far the world leader in COVID-19 vaccinations — agreed to pay $25 for each dose, and the United States paid $20, the EU held out for a discount, ultimately paying $15 to $19. And while EU countries got a lower price, they paid more in other ways. A recent analysis found that the delayed rollout could cost the European economy close to $107 billion this year. That’s more than four times what the EU paid for its vaccines. Sadly, this isn’t the first time Europe’s price-obsessed bureaucracy has delayed access to lifesaving new medicines. It’s routine for agencies like Germany’s Federal Joint Committee and France’s Economic Committee for Health Products to set prices for breakthrough drugs at below-market rates. And it’s because of these tactics that new medicines generally take far longer to reach European patients. There were 290 new active pharmaceutical substances released worldwide between 2011 and 2018. Of those, German patients had access to just less than two -thirds, and just less than half were offered to French patients. Meanwhile, in America — where policymakers have so far eschewed European-style price-controls — patients had access to nearly 90 percent of these new treatments. Despite the damage wrought by Europe’s drug price controls, many American lawmakers remain eager to copy these policies. House Democrats just revived H.R. 3, a bill that would tie prices for up to 250 common medicines covered by Medicare to the average price paid in other rich nations, Germany and France among them. Europe’s catastrophic vaccine rollout has shown the high cost, in money and lives, of price controls. Importing those policies here would have disastrous consequences for American patients and end up costing us all more in the long run. Joel White is president of the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, a coalition of organizations seeking to lower the cost of health care for all Americans. Previously, Joel spent 12 years on Capitol Hill as a House staffer, most recently as the Staff Director for the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee.

GUEST COMMENTARY: S. 1 would muzzle free speech

If you want to turn private life into political warfare, there’s a bill in the U.S. Senate just for you. It’s the Democrats’ 800-page election takeover, S. 1. Promoted as a voting and campaign reform measure, 300 pages of the bill actually contain new restrictions on your First Amendment rights to association and free speech. These provisions have been criticized by everyone from the ACLU to Mitch McConnell, but Democratic leaders refuse to budge. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives. S. 1 also seeks to nationalize election law in ways that won’t fit our unique state. I oversaw elections as Gov. Sean Parnell’s lieutenant governor. Alaska’s election rules reflect our vast land areas, diverse languages and cultures, and even the challenges of getting an ID card if you live in rural Alaska. Sadly, S. 1 will not allow for our uniqueness and diversity. It turns more power over elections to the federal government, and overrides our state’s constitution in several ways. A second challenge in the law is its effort to stifle political debate and undermine individual privacy, both things Alaskans hold dear. Under S. 1, any group that mentions a candidate in communications about legislation or public affairs could be forced to publicly expose its supporters. This will discourage Americans from joining groups that speak about the issues. It would also violate the privacy of longstanding nonprofit organizations that care about public policy and good government. Americans have a First Amendment right to privately support charities and civic groups, including through membership. Doing so should not “brand” someone as fully supporting everything that group does or advocates. A garden or gun club, an aviators’ group, or a snowmachine group might have views on parklands or air traffic control or access to public lands. Why should they have to release their membership to make their feelings known on a legislative issues? First Amendment freedom has been vital to social movements, including many that are now celebrated among our democracy’s greatest achievements. Americans who challenge the establishment have good reason to value their privacy. One of the great victories of the civil rights movement was a unanimous 1958 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court protecting citizen privacy. It said Alabama could not force the NAACP to turn over a list of its members. The Court saw that “compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as (other) forms of governmental action.” In other words, censorship isn’t the only way the government can make a troublesome group or viewpoint disappear. If it can weaponize the law to force organizations to expose their members, it can dry up support for any group that dares to criticize the government. Soon enough, the criticism goes away, or at least gets a heck of a lot quieter. Importantly, the court’s ruling did not just apply to the NAACP or in the South. It protected the right to private giving for all Americans and from all governments. The threats to citizens today, and the chill to speech, are significantly greater. Thanks to the internet, private giving that is publicly exposed will be available for all time, to anyone, in just a few clicks. Who knows what opinions will get you “canceled” a generation from now? Even today, three out of four voters say they cannot speak openly because of how others would react to their views. S. 1 would silence us more. Sen. Lisa Murkowski courageously stood for privacy and the First Amendment freedoms of Alaskans during the 2005 Patriot Act debates. I agree with the sentiments she expressed then about the importance of “providing safeguards to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.” She fought giving the government power to do a “fishing expedition” into our library, health and gun records. Now I’m hopeful our delegation stands together to protect our privacy, by defeating S. 1. Congressman Don Young has already voted no. Private giving is the protection that new ideas need in a democracy. History teaches us that some of them, maybe even those we regard as silly or strange today, will become the founding principles of our future. No wonder those in power want to shut them down. Mead Treadwell was lieutenant governor of Alaska from 2010-2014. He is a board member of Alaska Policy Forum and many other nonprofit groups.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Biden’s clean energy plan requires a U.S. mining renaissance

President Biden is making a big push for his American Jobs Plan. As he explained in his recent address to Congress, a large-scale U.S. transition to renewable energy could create millions of good-paying jobs, particularly if “Made in America.” That would be a great help for America’s domestic manufacturers. But there’s a catch: a potential shortage of the raw materials needed to actually manufacture these advanced technologies. A new report by the International Energy Agency makes clear that the United States will need to drastically increase its supply of critical minerals in order to manufacture everything from wind turbines and solar panels to lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles. As the IEA explains, an insufficient supply of raw minerals could jeopardize the chances of actually manufacturing these technologies in the U.S., or deploying them globally to effectively address climate concerns. According to the IEA, the production of lithium-ion batteries alone could drive up the global demand for lithium by more than 40 times through 2040. Supplies of other key minerals — including graphite, cobalt, and nickel — would need to increase by at least 20 times as well. President Biden plans to build out America’s energy infrastructure, including an estimated 20 gigawatts of new, high-voltage power lines and a proliferation of EV charging stations. The IEA estimates that, globally, these kinds of investments will require a doubling of copper supplies in the next 20 years. Similarly, increased production of wind turbines and solar panels could boost demand for rare earth metals by as much as seven times. These new technologies are far more minerals-intensive than the systems they’re replacing. An EV uses six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car. And an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired power station. Unfortunately, the United States is now heavily reliant on China and other nations for these raw materials. In fact, America’s mineral-import reliance has doubled in just the past two decades. And thanks to aggressive, mercantilist policies, China now controls 70 percent of the world’s lithium supplies, 80 percent of rare earth metals, and roughly 70 percent of the world’s graphite. A key concern is that China utilizes extremely toxic practices to extract these resources. In Inner Mongolia, Chinese mining operators have poured refining waste into a poisonous artificial lake large enough to be visible on Google Earth. And China’s Bayan-Obo dumping site consists of dangerous sludge roughly three times the size of Central Park. In contrast, America’s mining operators adhere to the world’s most stringent environmental standards. However, the permitting process for new U.S. mines can often take up to a decade. Countries such as Australia and Canada typically approve new mines in only two to three years, though, even while imposing equally strict environmental controls. To meet soaring demand and reduce imports from China, the United States must start mining more of these resources at home. The good news is that the U.S. possesses more than $6 trillion in mineral reserves. It’s time for federal policies to change in favor of U.S. mining and materials processing. Otherwise, President Biden’s clean energy agenda could fall short of its goals—and leave the U.S. dependent on China’s reckless mining industry. Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Follow him at @michael_stumo

GUEST COMMENTARY: HB 176 offers solution to health care shortage

Alaskans suffer from a health care shortage in most of our boroughs. It is not that we have a shortage of providers, though. We rank among the top 10 states in the country for most doctors per capita. A large part of the problem is that onerous regulations on providers make it more difficult for them to treat patients in need. But now, lawmakers are proposing a potential solution to this problem, one that would allow doctors to spend more of their time with patients and less time filling out paperwork. The Alaska Legislature is considering a bill, HB 176, that would legally define “direct health care agreements,” also known as direct primary care, as distinct from an insurance product and therefore exempt from Alaska’s insurance laws and regulations. Make no mistake: This bit of legalese would be game-changing for health care and those who depend on it in our far-flung state. HB 176 would give health care providers, including primary and specialty care providers, the legal certainty they need to see Alaskans through direct primary care, an arrangement in which patients would pay a fixed, monthly fee — on average, $25 to $85 — in exchange for round-the-clock access to their doctors. Think of it as a gym membership for health care. Under the current system, many physicians hesitate to offer DPC because they worry it will be regulated under the state’s insurance laws creating extra layers of bureaucracy to deal with, along with the inevitable higher costs. HB 176 would fix that. In turn, the benefits DPC could offer to doctors and patients would be enormous. America’s doctors spend inordinate time — half their working hours — navigating the cumbersome third-party insurance reimbursement system, time that results in 40 percent higher overhead expenses, and which could have been spent treating patients. This process also contributes significantly to physician burnout, causing skilled medical professionals to leave the practice. DPC could relieve some of this hemorrhaging. Their practices spend significantly less time on often mind-numbing paperwork, allowing them to focus more of their attention on the patients in their care. Patients, too, could benefit from increased access to DPC. One study found that DPC patients visited the emergency room 41 percent less often, admitted to hospitals 20 percent less, and needed 13 percent fewer health care services overall, compared with patients who use traditional fee-for-service primary care. DPC also increases health care affordability by improving patient outcomes. After a North Carolina county offered their public employees an option to receive care through DPC, total medical costs fell 23 percent, out-of-pocket spending decreased a whopping 46 percent, and prescription drug spending fell 36 percent. The average patient was able to save $3,120. What’s more, under DPC arrangements, providers typically spend 30 to 60 minutes with each patient, compared to just 12 to 15 minutes for fee-for-service relationships. For these and other reasons, more than 30 states have passed bills ensuring that consumers have access to DPC. Removing barriers to DPC in Alaska could be exactly what we need to expand access to quality, affordable health care. Lawmakers should pass HB 176. Not only would it give patients better access to better care, but it would also free up more of our doctors to provide it. This is our chance to help them do it. Ryan McKee is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Alaska.

BROWN'S CLOSE: A Love Letter to Airplanes

Long standing readers of this column will recall there was a time when I was a frequent flyer and bona fide road warrior. Since February 2020, however, I largely stopped travelling due to the obvious complexities presented by a global pandemic. I spent a year without voluntarily giving up my civil liberties at Ted Stevens International Airport. I went 365 days sans random cavity searches by TSA. Twelve months lapsed since I last elbowed my fellow passengers while staking claim to overhead bin space. When it became obvious to everyone that we’d all been grounded for the foreseeable future, I thought, well, there is much to be gained here. My skin will clear up because it will not be exposed to that weird airplane air that always makes me breakout. I will not have to eye my seat prior to lighting for large, half chewed bits of cookie left lovingly behind by the previous passenger. No concern about the stale nose tissue that may, or may not, be lodged way, way, far down at the bottom of the seatback pouch in front of me. I will not have to look at the bathroom floor with trepidation, wondering if the puddles on the ground were caused by people who cannot neatly dry their hands, or by some other, more sinister, fluid. I was as shocked as anyone to discover after a while … that I missed it. Ironically, despite the ever-present and all-powerful weight of the Federal government, air travel struck me as, well, freedom. I looked back fondly on the stale smelling circulated air, the fiesta mix pretzels in tiny packets, and the unique taste of a Bloody Mary at 30,000 feet cruising altitude. I am pleased to report, however, that air travel is returning. Pandemic weary Americans are back to jamming themselves into these tiny cylindrical tubes and jettisoning themselves as far away from home as possible. Iceland is now open to vaccinated Americans, and the European Union is expected to follow suit shortly. Spring break travelers to Hawaii were treated to $1,000 per day car rentals, as demand surged despite companies having previously sold off inventory to stay afloat in 2020. Personally, I have completed my first pleasure trip post COVID and will begin travelling again for work in May. Expectedly, things have changed since I last flew. TSA now checks your driver’s license, and not your ticket. Masked passengers remove face coverings long enough for the security agents to verify passenger faces match passenger IDs. After a year in quarantine, I can’t imagine all faces look the same, and the agents studied a few of my fellow travelers for a while, trying to determine whether they were imposters, or had just been living life rough for the last 13 months. I am somewhat dourly resigned to looking like a demented bank robber forever, my baby blue disposable mask covering up the bottom half of my face, and my glasses the top half. One of the more disappointing changes to airline travel is the meal service. Previously a joyful activity on flights, meal service could be counted on to dependably absorb 20 minutes of flight time, followed by another seven minutes in the bathroom line, three minutes maneuvering in the bathroom itself, and a minute forty-seven seconds spent eyeing all the bathroom puddles. Then there was always the possibility of a bathroom surprise, like the time someone dangled a used Lipton tea bag from the inside bathroom door handle. These little diversions would necessitate me staring for another 52 seconds, at least! Altogether, such points of recreation would eat up over half an hour, which would be correspondingly deducted from the amount of time spent in bored silence. While I am nothing but sympathetic to an industry brought to the brink of extinction one year ago, it was a nevertheless disappointing meal service that brought me a cup of water, half a cracker, and a virtual pat on the head. Snack time lasted 38 seconds, and I swiveled around wildly wanting to know how I was going to burn up all this new quiet time. With a few accommodations, I was nevertheless thrilled to skip down the jetway for the first time in 2021. TSA, baggage crew, officious ticket checkers abundant… I love you! Sarah Brown is a Captain of Industry. You may pitch her 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: Dunbar ditches 'science' in last-ditch gambit to beat Bronson

Scotch tape is harder to see through than what the leftist leaders of the Anchorage Assembly pulled off at the April 27 meeting. For a year, members Chris Constant and Forrest Dunbar have turned a deaf ear and struggled to disguise their disdain at the pleas of Anchorage business owners and residents being harmed by restrictions and closures that were further exacerbated by the Assembly’s mismanagement of $156 million in CARES Act economic relief funds. Just two weeks after voting to uphold it, the pair teamed up to repeal nearly everything in the current Emergency Order that was issued by Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson in the faraway time of April 12. Constant introduced the motion and it was seconded by Dunbar, who is coincidentally in the middle of a runoff election for mayor against Dave Bronson. No more capacity restrictions either indoors or out. No more six feet of social distancing between groups that effectively preserved capacity restrictions despite a prior order allowing businesses to operate at 100 percent. Kick off your Sunday shoes, everybody. No more bans on dancing or live performances. The new rules for Anchorage — minus the face-saving preservation of what will increasingly become a meaningless mask mandate — actually border on what President Joe Biden would call “Neanderthal thinking.” In doing so, the Constant-Dunbar led effort abandoned the Acting Mayor’s 70 percent vaccine requirement for lifting restrictions that is also incorporated into Dunbar’s own 10-point campaign plan for reviving the Anchorage economy he helped put on life support. The resolution goes beyond the latest CDC guidelines and was approved over the objections of the municipal Health Department. Not to mention that Anchorage is still considered in “high alert” status with more than 10 new cases per 100,000 people per day. Although he ultimately voted in favor of member Meg Zalatel’s amendment to push the effective date to midnight on May 3, Dunbar initially agreed with Constant’s proposal to lift the EO immediately, or just 11 days after it went into effect. So much for “following the science.” Only a doe-eyed observer could see this for anything but what it is: a transparent ploy to disarm Bronson’s central campaign pledge to lift the Emergency Orders that Dunbar has repeatedly and as recently as two weeks ago supported. The combined votes for the three candidates running to the right of Dunbar earned a majority, or 50.3 percent, in the April 6 election compared to 47.5 percent for the three competing for progressive votes. Business owners — who have employees that vote as well — have shown a tremendous amount of support for Bronson and he is fresh off a weekend rally where he received the endorsement of the popular Sen. Dan Sullivan. Now that Dunbar can point to his vote to finally take the boot off Anchorage businesses, he is free to go scorched earth on Bronson over the next two weeks as a scary right-winger no longer worth taking a chance on as the antidote to the policies correctly associated with the left-wing Assembly and two mayors. The strategy is previewed in Dunbar’s most recent ad as he unsubtly splices together successive videos of Bronson and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. A prediction here is that the Outside dark money supporting Dunbar will be even less restrained. Dunbar knows he isn’t going to convince Bronson or Mike Robbins supporters to change their minds. The clear play is for a share of those in the soft middle who voted for Bill Evans and think the “Save Anchorage” folks who support Bronson are icky. A last-ditch gambit by Dunbar to co-opt the Save Anchorage demands by using his influence on the Assembly is rather insulting to the intelligence of such voters. Soon we will find out if it works. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: A slap in the face to Alaska Native Vietnam veterans

They have waited long enough — and they are dying. It is no secret that throughout Alaska’s history, the federal government has gone to great lengths to lock up huge swathes of Alaska land. In a deeply troubling move April 16, the Biden administration announced under Public Land Order 7899, that it has delayed a program that gives qualified Alaska Native Vietnam veterans the opportunity to select a plot of federal land in Alaska. After a 50-year wait, these lands were supposed to be released in February of this year, only to be delayed another two years. A brief history Under the Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906, land transfers between 2.5 and 160 acres of “vacant, unappropriated, and unreserved non-mineral” land was first authorized for individual Alaska Natives who could prove “continuous use and occupancy” of the land for five years. The program existed for 65 years before it was repealed in 1971 with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. ANCSA granted large land allotments to newly formed Native Corporations who then assumed the responsibility of granting land allocations to their individual members as the organizations saw fit. It would take another ten years to settle all the pending land claims made prior to ANCSA, but the federal application period for individual Alaska Natives to apply ended in December 1971 with ANCSA’s passage. How does this affect Alaska Native Veterans? During the Vietnam War, 2,800 Alaska Natives served in the military, that’s a higher rate per capita than any other group. Because the conflict did not end until 1973, both voluntary and conscripted service members were unable to apply for land before the deadline. After years of advocacy, these Alaska Native Veterans were finally given that opportunity once again under the 1998 Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans Allotment Act, which authorized a new 18-month filing period for qualifying Alaska Native Veterans to apply for up to 160 acres of Alaska land. But 20 more years of delay ensued. Eligible veterans began passing away. In response, the Alaska congressional delegation worked to include within the President Trump-signed John D. Dingell Jr. Act of 2019 provisions to extend eligibility to qualified veterans and their heirs. These provisions also removed a five-year occupancy requirement, freeing applicants to apply for available lands anywhere in the state. These lands all over the state would have been made available for selection on Feb. 19, just a few months shy of 50 years after the passage of ANCSA, which initially closed the application period. But, once again, the service of these men and women is being “rewarded” by the Biden administration with an additional two-year halt to the program. A trail of broken promises Alaska has contributed more than 60 percent of its lands to the federal government for conservation purposes. And yet, after 60 years, the federal government continues to break the promises it made to Alaskans in exchange for that land. The Biden administration reneging the commitment of past administrations to Alaska Native Veterans is just the most recent instance in a long history of broken promises, and at the worst possible time with record unemployment, a state budget crisis, and a global pandemic. As a veteran, I deeply appreciate the sacrifices and dedication required to serve our nation, all the more present in those who served during the Vietnam Era. The continued disrespect that is being shown to those who served honorably makes my heart ache. How is it fair to now tell these Alaskan Native Veterans to pound sand after decades of waiting? Why must they pay for someone else’s campaign promises? As Alaskans and Americans, we owe these veterans far more than a debt of gratitude for the blood, sweat and tears they’ve given to this country. We owe them the land that was promised. And while we may not be able to turn back the clock and make these veterans whole, in the immortal words of Dr. King, “the time is always right to do what’s right.” Do what is right, Mr. President. Josh Revak is a state senator from Anchorage and Click Bishop is a state senator from Fairbanks.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Reflecting on 45 years of the Permanent Fund

As we observe the anniversary of the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. this month, it is noteworthy to laud the vision and leadership of the past, and imperative in my opinion to look forward: to bring that same extraordinary vision, leadership, and forethought to the now, the near, and the far. Now, today, Alaska is the only state that earns the majority of its unrestricted general fund revenues from the global economy. No longer a “rainy day account,” the Permanent Fund now provides more than two-thirds of the state’s annual revenue; money that pays for education, public safety, clean water and other essential services. Properly protected and managed, the Alaska Permanent Fund can continue to support the state. First and foremost, as Alaskans, we must recognize our reliance on the Fund’s earnings. In many ways, the Permanent Fund has now been “activated” to provide revenue given state savings accounts are depleted, oil revenues alone are insufficient, and there isn’t a general statewide tax base. The percent of market value draw from the Fund provides a reliable and stable source of state revenue and ensures that no more than a sustainable amount is taken from the Fund so it can offer benefits to the far, the future generations of Alaskans, as envisioned by voters 45 years ago. The challenge lies in the near, maintaining the discipline necessary to not overspend from the Fund while the policy debate about Alaska’s fiscal future is resolved, all the while continuing to support the entity that is tasked with managing these assets in an uncertain time. The Fund cannot grow by itself. The Legislature created APFC in 1980 as a quasi-independent state entity tasked with the important mission of prudently investing and managing the assets of the Fund. It has been my pleasure to be part of this group of 50-plus professionals for the past six years. Under the guidance of the Board of Trustees, these highly-skilled, forward-thinking, service-oriented individuals have contributed to the Fund’s governance, performance, transparency and growth, now valued at more than $76.3 billion. Innovation and courage have been the definitive words over the past year as the APFC staff were able to invest, trade, account for and communicate virtually instantaneously from remote locations at the onset of the pandemic. As one of the largest market collapses in history was occurring and the world hunkered down in isolation, staff had the courage to look forward and recognize that the Fund could prosper, as they identified and capitalized on opportunities around the world. This courage and willingness to think past the now to the far is highlighted in the results; the Fund recovered from a low of $58.7 billion on March 16, 2020, to $76.3 billion on March 31. This past year has taught us that change is powerful and brings new insights, opportunities, and connectivity. Our world has become more dynamic, more resilient, more inventive, as has our work environment. Platforms once judiciously applied are now accessible and acceptable, propelling us all to lean in to the possibilities. Alaskans made extraordinary policy decisions in creating the Fund and establishing an investment corporation to generate wealth. They then let it grow and prosper for 40-plus years into a resource that we depend on today and one future Alaskans can count on tomorrow. It is now time for us to envision what we want for our state, our communities, our children, our grandchildren, and their children, all generations of Alaskans. The legacy that we have in the Alaska Permanent Fund was once just that: a vision. Each of us can ensure that legacy continues for another 45 years and beyond. Angela M. Rodell serves as the CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.

GUEST COMMENTARY: The pro-jobs climate plan America needs

America stands at a strategic crossroads. We could enact the Biden administration’s climate change policies that would shut down whole industries, provide pink slips to millions of American workers during a pandemic with no alternatives in the near term, drastically raise prices on American families, undermine economic growth, decrease energy reliability, diminish our national security and do little or nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Or we could pursue a worker-oriented energy and climate strategy that would empower American ingenuity, expand good-paying jobs, including union jobs, in all of the critical energy sectors of the U.S. economy — hydrocarbons, renewables, mining, nuclear — make energy more reliable and affordable for consumers, boost our economic and national security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home and abroad. Let me highlight a few areas of this better, worker-oriented energy and climate plan that we will unveil in the next few weeks. First, we need to continue to fully develop our existing lower-emissions resources, like natural gas, at home and export them abroad. Between 2005 and 2019, largely because of the expansion of U.S. natural gas and the dramatic increase in its use in our electric grid, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector declined by 33 percent. During this same period, our economy grew by 20 percent, energy consumption fell by 2 percent, and per capita emissions dropped to their lowest levels since 1950. In fact, in 2013, President Barack Obama was touting the benefits of natural gas. “We produce more natural gas than ever before — and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it,” he said. “The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.” He’s right. Unfortunately, John Kerry and President Joe Biden’s other advisers want to restrict natural gas production and fire the tens of thousands of hardworking Americans in the sector at a time when there are no employment substitutes. This makes no strategic sense. Not only should we be increasing the use of natural gas here at home, we should also be exporting it — in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG — to countries that lack our reserves of this cleaner burning fuel source. The world is craving gas. The market in the Asia-Pacific is particularly strong and exporting to some of these countries — Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India and even China — would be a win-win-win. It would continue to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs for American workers, deepen our country’s security ties with Japan, Korea and Taiwan and increase our advantages over China. Importantly, it would also dramatically decrease global emissions, as U.S. LNG could displace Chinese and Indian coal and cut emissions in half. Second, to support the renewable energy industry, we need to build out our renewable energy and manufacturing sectors. Together with our allies, we can grow these sectors using environmental and labor standards that are second to none, paying our workers prevailing wages and no longer empowering countries, like China, that actually use forced labor to make renewable energy technology, like solar panels, that the United States imports. For instance, critical minerals are vital to many alternative energy and transportation technologies, like batteries and solar panels. The problem? China controls nearly 80 percent of these resources. As it stands, every battery produced for electric cars and every house that we equip with solar panels invariably strengthens China and massively increases our trade deficit with them. And because China and other countries have some of the world’s worst environmental standards, this mineral production could actually increase global CO2 emissions. We have many of the natural resources necessary to produce our own alternative energy technologies, but we lack the industry to produce and refine these products. Further, manufacturing and production are held back by a protracted and inefficient federal permitting system. Domestic development of our natural resources and infrastructure projects can take 10 years or more, resulting in reduced investment. By incentivizing the production and refining of domestic minerals, and streamlining our permitting process, the U.S. can become a dominant player in the renewable energy market, limit the hold our geopolitical foes have on supply chains, empower the American worker and reduce emissions. We also need to support U.S. innovation for battery storage technology, develop substitutes for certain scarce critical minerals, bolster microgrids for rural electrification, advance small nuclear reactors and support carbon capture technology efforts, among other innovations. Some of those elements are already at hand. I’ve introduced the Rebuild America Now Act to ensure our permitting process does not unnecessarily delay projects and give competitors like China huge strategic advantages. The USE IT Act, passed last Congress, would reduce barriers for the development of projects and support carbon capture and direct air capture research. We can also provide stable private sector incentives, invest more in the Department of Energy and our national lab infrastructure, and offer additional incentives to encourage research and development that will advance our energy technology into the next age. Finally, we cannot enact policies that put thousands of Americans out of work during a recession, as the Biden administration continues to do. Biden’s energy plan promises “a clean energy revolution that creates millions of unionized, middle-class jobs.” While this sounds great, it’s just not true. The average annual pay for workers in the oil and gas industry is significantly higher than those working on alternative energy. If we want the energy transition to build up the middle class and not leave skilled workers behind, we must pursue policies that build on and expand job opportunities in all sectors of the U.S. economy: oil and gas, nuclear, wind and solar, and mining. Our energy resources provide America with an incredible strategic advantage. Through innovation and the strength of our workers, the United States has once again become the world’s No. 1 producer of oil, natural gas and renewables in the world. We can, and we should, use these resources as a bridge to the technologies that will create a cleaner energy future, not unilaterally restrict production of American energy and hand workers in these critical sectors pink slips, as the Biden administration is now doing. We can begin that work now by continuing to lead on energy production and lowering emissions, strengthening our economy and our national security, and ensuring that hardworking Americans are not being forced to sacrifice their livelihoods. Dan Sullivan is the junior Republican senator from Alaska.

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