- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Aug. 30, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: At long last, Denali restored

After spending nearly a century bearing the name of a president who never saw the mountain or even visited Alaska, Denali has been restored. The White House announced Sunday that on the eve of President Barack Obama’s first trip to the state, the president directed Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to officially rename North America’s highest peak to its traditional Athabascan name. And while most Alaskans have been calling the mountain Denali for decades, it’s good that the name will finally be official across the U.S. and the world.

For many Alaskans, Denali has always been the mountain’s name. When trappers and prospectors first came to the Interior, Alaska’s Native people told them of the mountain and its name, which means “the great one” or “the high one.” It was the intervention of a prospector in the late 1800s that first applied the “Mt. McKinley” moniker to the peak. In 1917, the federal government named the mountain after the former president from Ohio.

In 1975, Alaska’s opposition to the Outside name applied to the state’s most iconic mountain became official. The Alaska Geographic Society, Gov. Jay Hammond and the Legislature called on the U.S. Geological Survey to restore Denali’s name. What followed was a four-decade battle between states that few could have anticipated.

A quirk of the Department of Interior’s naming policy allowed the process of changing the name to be hijacked indefinitely: So long as legislation was pending with regard to geological features’ names, the USGS would defer to Congress. So for years, legislators from Ohio would either introduce their own legislation to reaffirm the Mt. McKinley name or block legislation that Alaska’s Congressional delegation moved in attempts to restore the mountain as Denali.

In recent years, however, pressure to change the name back to Denali increased. Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill that would rename the peak, as did State Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks. Comedy Central’s wildly popular The Daily Show with John Stewart featured the battle to rename the mountain in one of its final episodes, with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Vice Chancellor for Rural Community and Native Education Evon Peter playing a starring role.

It took 40 years’ effort on the part of many Alaskans and a president in a position to never need Ohio’s electoral votes again, but Denali’s right name will finally be reapplied to the mountain. In choosing to restore the name, President Obama has finally found one of the rarest political commodities: An executive action popular with Alaska residents. While there are surely some who would have liked to see the mountain’s name restored through the legislative process, it’s hard to argue that route would have been fruitful at any point in the near future since Ohio’s congressional delegation had proved so apt at gaming the system.

As an overture to his visit to Alaska, the president could hardly have chosen a better issue. Restoring Denali’s name was not only important to Alaskans and a politically popular cause within the state, it was the right thing to do. After close to a century, the highest mountain in North America will once again bear its true name.


Aug. 28, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Drilling permit, Senate legislative efforts pave way for new Alaska fields

Oil producer Shell has finally been given the green light to explore for oil in the Chukchi Sea - but the clock is ticking. Final permits were granted last week that allow Shell to drill into oil-bearing zones, but the company must wrap up exploration efforts by late September, so it has almost exactly a month to find what it can at its Burger Prospect drilling sites. The offshore exploration could prove fruitful for the company - and, if legislative efforts by Sen. Lisa Murkowski are successful, for Alaska as well.

Shell’s permit was approved two weeks before President Barack Obama will make his first Alaska visit, and two years after the drill rig Kulluk ran aground on its way back from Arctic offshore exploration. The Kulluk incident caused federal regulators to rescind Shell’s exploration permits until the company could meet more stringent safety standards.

The requirements put in place for Shell to resume drilling - having a ship on hand carrying equipment to help minimize spills from blowouts, ceasing operations before winter arrives in earnest and limiting the number of exploratory wells being drilled simultaneously - are wise. Though Shell has been drilling in the Arctic since 2007, offshore drilling in the waters above Alaska’s North Slope is a relatively new field and one that must be developed responsibly. More than

20 billion barrels of oil and 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are estimated to be resting under the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, so those fields are likely to be part of Alaska’s resource development equation for decades. It’s crucial that companies employ strong safety standards to avoid disasters like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon crisis in the Gulf of Mexico: If there are further accidents, it may be some time before there is political and economic will to go forward again.

The development of offshore oil comes as traditional oil in Prudhoe Bay is becoming scarcer and more difficult to produce. But what most Alaskans might not know is that even if fields in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas are brought online, they won’t bring new tax revenues to the state under the current structure for offshore oil production.

Offshore oil is federally controlled, and tax revenue from its development currently flows exclusively to the federal government.

Though former Sen. Ted Stevens and others made efforts to provide for offshore revenue sharing with states, those efforts bore no fruit for Alaska. But this year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced the OPENS Act, which would give the state 30 percent and local governments

7.5 percent of offshore revenue. Getting the act passed won’t be easy, especially since it also contains a provision allowing for an end to the U.S. oil export ban. But Sen. Murkowski is about as well situated as a senator can be to help give the bill momentum: She is the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, and her Democratic counterpart on the committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has proved much more receptive to the issue of offshore revenue sharing than his predecessor. What’s more, the states of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi secured offshore revenue sharing for their regions of the Gulf of Mexico in 2006, so there’s a precedent for extending that principle to Alaska.

It’s a formative time in the waters off Alaska’s north coast, and much is up in the air. Development of offshore oil in the Chukchi Sea is progressing, and it should be undertaken responsibly. And in Washington, D.C., an effort is underway to let Alaska share in the development of the wealth off its shores. Alaskans should press Congress to ensure it succeeds.

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