- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Jan. 26, 2015

Juneau Empire: Obama ‘declares war’ on Alaska

On Sunday, President Obama declared war on Alaska.

So say Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan.

In a statement released on the first day of the week, the president announced that he plans to ask Congress to declare 12.2 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, including the refuge’s coastal plain.

ANWR’s coastal plain is thought to contain the largest deposit of conventional oil remaining on land in the United States. Anyone who lives in Southeast Alaska should know what the wilderness designation would mean. Many locations in the Tongass National Forest already are designated wilderness, the most restrictive land-use label the federal government has.

Wilderness means what it says. It means no driving. It means no building. It means no mining. It definitely means no drilling.

Alaskans should see the president’s move as nothing else than an attempt to protect ANWR from oil and gas drilling.

“What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” Murkowski declared in a prepared statement.

Along with the wilderness designation, more Arctic actions are expected. The Washington Post reports that the Department of the Interior will this week set certain parts of the Arctic Ocean off-limits to drilling. The Department of the Interior also could impose “additional limits on oil and gas production in parts of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska,” reported the Post’s Juliet Elperin.

When it came to protections for Bristol Bay, this newspaper applauded the president’s action.

When it comes to ANWR and restrictions on drilling in the Arctic, we believe the president’s actions are extreme, unenforceable and come close to the declaration of war that Murkowski and Sullivan have proclaimed.

Oil is the lifeblood of Alaska. Whether that is a good thing or not can be debated, but one fact is certain: Alaska depends on oil.

To deprive an animal or human of blood is to deprive it of life. No wonder, then, that so many Alaskans are sure to see this decision as a life-or-death “war.”

Within hours of the president’s announcement, Murkowski, Sullivan, Rep. Don Young and Gov. Bill Walker had issued statements damning the president’s move. We expect that when the Alaska Legislature reconvenes this morning, it will soon issue a joint resolution doing the same. In 2003, when the Alaska Legislature approved a joint resolution asking for ANWR to be opened for drilling, Rep. Kim Elton of Juneau was the sole vote against it, and he later went on to serve in Obama’s Interior Department.

At that time, this newspaper declared that supporting the ANWR resolution and opening the coastal plain to drilling “is consistent with the best interests of the whole state.”

We continue to believe this. Alaska needs oil. While we may deplore the fact that we need it, we cannot deny our addiction. Oil is the fuel that pays for our health care, our schools, our police, our government.

Gov. Walker, in response to the president’s declaration, said the state may be forced to accelerate the pace of leases and drilling on state land, and that makes us nervous. Haste means waste, less time for checks and environmental protections. A move designed to protect the environment could have severe consequences beyond the financial ones.

In 2002, the McDowell Group released a report saying that at $24 per barrel, ANWR oil would be worth $1.3 billion per year to the state of Alaska at peak production. Even in a historic oil price slump and after changes to the oil tax code, the revenue from ANWR crude would be double that 13-year-old estimate.

We admire the president’s intent when it comes to ANWR - his goal is to protect a place that is unique in the United States. But his actions are too extreme. Oil development can be done responsibly, with a minimum of damage to the environment. Contrast the gruesome environmental damage in Nigeria with the clean and safe operations of the North Slope. They are not flawless, but they remain the best in the world.

Perhaps it is for the best that President Obama will not have the final word on ANWR. If Sunday was a “declaration of war,” the president is outgunned by Congress.

In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act declared that additional wilderness designations in Alaska would require the approval of Congress.

If there is a war, it will be fought on ground that favors the defense.


Jan. 22, 2015

Juneau Empire: Empire Editorial: Cut Prince Rupert

The Gordian Knot is one of the many legends surrounding Alexander the Great. It’s a story a lot like the Sword in the Stone. In ancient Phrygia, there was a legend that whoever could untie an infamously complicated knot between a chariot and its yoke would become the next king of Phrygia. Alexander the Great took one look at the knot and cut it in half with his sword, solving the riddle at a stroke.

Sometimes, the best solutions involve cutting out the problem.

Alaska and Canada are involved in one such problem right now. The Alaska Marine Highway wants to build a new ferry terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The construction will be partially funded with federal money, which means a few strings are attached. One of those strings is a “buy American” clause. The steel and materials used in the project must be bought from an American source.

Naturally, Canadians aren’t happy with this and have threatened consequences if the Marine Highway goes forward with the project anyway.

Gov. Bill Walker could simply apply for an exemption from the “buy American” clause, but we think there’s a better solution. It involves cutting.

The state of Alaska is facing a $3.5 billion revenue shortfall. It’s going to be looking for budget cuts. One of those cuts should be Prince Rupert.

We’re not just talking about the new ferry terminal. We’re talking about cutting Prince Rupert as a stop on the Alaska Marine Highway.

Cutting Prince Rupert would slice money from the Marine Highway’s budget, preserving funding elsewhere. The Marine Highway’s own traffic figures make the case for this cut.

Since 2004, overall passenger and car traffic has risen in Southeast Alaska. In 2004, Marine Highway ferries embarked more than 240,000 passengers in Southeast. Included in that figure were 14,191 passengers from Prince Rupert.

In 2013, the Marine Highway carried 254,437 passengers in Southeast Alaska. Fewer than 8,000 of them were picked up in Prince Rupert. Prince Rupert had about as many passenger embarkations as Petersburg, in fact.

We would prefer no cuts to the Marine Highway budget, but that isn’t an option. The state’s budget cap is too wide to be bridged unless every department pitches in. Cutting service to Prince Rupert does not do a disservice to any Alaskans. Service to the Lower 48 will still be available through Bellingham. Prince Rupert does not offer anything that cannot be obtained through another port.

As the state cuts its budget, we expect the Alaska Marine Highway to bear its share. If it comes down to a choice between Petersburg and Prince Rupert, we know which option we prefer.


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