Headlamp – EPA down nearly 1000, porcupine caribou up 40,000!

“Honey I shrunk the EPA!” The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) staffing is now lower than it was in former President Reagan’s final year in office. An EPA spokeswoman said Tuesday that, as of Jan. 3, the agency had 14,162 employees, down from about 15,000 at the beginning of last year. That’s even lower than the 14,400 employees the agency had in fiscal year 1988, Reagan’s final year. The figures come after President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s pledges to shrink the size of the federal government as part of their efforts to demonstrate that they are saving money and reducing regulatory burdens. “We’re proud to report that we’re reducing the size of government, protecting taxpayer dollars and staying true to our core mission of protecting the environment,” Pruitt said in a statement.

Let’s put it to a vote. Bills introduced ahead of the new legislative session could complicate Gov. Bill Walker’s plans to address Alaska’s budget and tackle infrastructure projects. Two new Senate proposals — from Republican Bert Stedman and Democrat Tom Begich — seek to enshrine a dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund into the state constitution. Similar measures were introduced last year but pushed aside as legislators delayed action on a plan that would use fund earnings to help pay for state government and change how dividends are calculated.

Is it time for the pendulum to swing? Oil prices rallied in the first week of 2018, supported by increased geopolitical risk and severely cold weather in the eastern U.S., but the ‘perfect storm’ that pushed oil prices higher also raises the risk of a correction and of heightened herd mentality in trade, analysts reckon. Protests in Iran, possible new U.S. sanctions against Tehran, and Venezuela’s economic collapse could be the main geopolitical risks that could drive oil prices up early this year. Oil prices made their strongest start to a year in four years, with both Brent and WTI starting trading in 2018 above $60 a barrel for the first time since January 2014.

From the Washington Examiner’s Daily on Energy:

TRUMP CELEBRATES REPEAL OF WOTUS DURING SPEECH TO FARMERS: President Trump, during a speech to farmers Monday, celebrated the reversal of the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which many rural landowners had opposed.

“We are streamlining regulations that have blocked cutting-edge biotechnology, setting free our farmers to innovate, thrive, and grow,” he said at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Nashville. “Oh, you are so happy you voted for me. You are so lucky I gave you that privilege.”

“It sounds so nice,” Trump said of WOTUS. “It sounds so innocent. And it was a disaster.”

However, WOTUS has not been changed yet. The Trump EPA is still working through redefining what constitutes a U.S. waterway under the Clean Water Act.

The Obama administration rule defined drainage ditches and watering holes the same as rivers and streams under EPA’s enforcement authority. That made farmers and ranchers subject to large fines and federal oversight.

Climate change = disease? How will climate change affect health in Alaska? Dangerous travel conditions could cause more accidents, warmer temperatures could spread new diseases and the topsy-turvy weather could worsen mental health. Those are some conclusions from a new state report, released Monday. The report, from the Alaska Division of Public Health, tries to predict the health impacts if current climate change forecasts hold true. (It’s based on the predictions for Alaska in the 2014 National Climate Assessment.) Sarah Yoder is the lead author. She said she was a little taken aback by what they found. “The surprise was just how broad, exactly, all these potential health impacts are,” Yoder said.

Following the herd. The Porcupine caribou herd has a record high number of animals. That’s according to a photo census compiled last summer by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The herd has been growing at a rate of about 3 to 4 percent annually since 2010, Northeast Alaska Assistant Area Biologist Jason Caikoski said last week. As of this year, the herd reached an estimated 218,000 animals. That’s nearly 40,000 more caribou than were present during the herd’s last population peak in 1989. However, recent advances in photo census technology have also made estimating the herd’s numbers more accurate over the years. 

First Reads:

EPA staffing falls to Reagan-era levels
The Hill, Timothy Cama, January 9, 2018

Dividend, tax vote bills could complicate governor’s budget
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Becky Bohrer, January 8, 2018

Is An Oil Price Correction Overdue?
OilPrice.com, Tsvetana Paraskova, January 8, 2018

State report details potential health impacts of climate change
Alaska Public Media, Rachel Waldholz, January 8, 2018

Porcupine Caribou Herd reaches record high population
Arctic Sounder, Shady Grove Oliver, January 8, 2018