Headlamp: Increased taxes hurt people. Alaska is betting on Tourism.

shale wellsRead our lips – no new taxes. Pennsylvania business groups are warning a state Senate-passed proposal to increase energy taxes will hurt the industry’s competitive standing, cause higher bills for consumers and scare off investment. The groups said Tuesday the proposal will hit some large industrial users very hard. The bill would bring in about $100 million annually from a new severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling. It also calls for about $400 million from a gross receipts tax on natural gas, electric and telecommunications bills. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supports the plan to plug a $2.2 billion revenue gap. Wolf’s spokesman says if lawmakers don’t act to fully fund spending that’s already been approved, the state will teeter on the verge of bankruptcy and schools and local municipalities will be harmed.

IRS helps Alaska – no, really. The Alaska Gasline Development Corp. has cleared another of many hurdles in its effort to monetize the state’s North Slope natural gas resources. The state-owned corporation announced Tuesday morning it qualifies as a federally tax-exempt political subdivision of the State of Alaska, according to a ruling it received from the Internal Revenue Service. AGDC President Keith Meyer said in a press release that the ruling will give the organization “significant maneuvering room” in how it can shape the financing structure for the $40 billion LNG export proposal. “This is great news for the corporation and the Alaska LNG Project. Receiving a favorable tax ruling from the IRS was one of the expectations of the transition of the Alaska LNG Project to state leadership,” Meyer said. Being labeled a “political subdivision” of the state means potential profits to the corporation from the project will not be subject to federal income taxes and AGDC can issue tax-exempt debt, according to the Tuesday release. Headlamp applauds AGDC for securing this significant exemption.

Want gas? Your input is needed. A federal agency is asking for input on an in-state natural gas pipeline. The Alaska Standalone Pipeline would bring gas from the North Slope to Wasilla.  It’s designed to deliver gas to communities like Fairbanks and throughout Southcentral Alaska. The Army Corps of Engineers is the lead agency working on an Environmental Impact Statement for the gasline project — a requirement for the National Environmental Policy Act. The current version of the statement — released in June — is updated from a 2012 version. It covers things like environmental consequences of the project footprint, transporting the gas, new access roads and the 13 construction camps needed to build it. The Corps is focused on the parts of the project that could impact people.

More OPEC production – lower oil prices. Oil prices slipped on Tuesday, pulling back from recent gains as exports from key OPEC producers rose and despite news of lower crude shipments from Saudi Arabia. The oil market has been in consolidation mode after a sharp rally between mid-June and late July pushed U.S. crude futures above $50 a barrel for the first time in several weeks. The price slipped back below $50 and has traded around that number as world supply has been slow to draw down.

How much is too much? EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s attacks on mainstream climate science are causing discomfort in a surprising corner – among many of the conservative and industry groups that have cheered his efforts to dismantle Barack Obama’s environmental regulations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, political groups backed by the Koch brothers and the top lobbying organizations for the coal, oil, natural gas and power industries are among those so far declining to back Pruitt’s efforts to undermine the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, according to more than a dozen interviews by POLITICO. Some advocates privately worry that the debated would politically harm moderate Republicans, while wasting time and effort that’s better spent on the EPA’s regulatory rollback.

New owners for Juneau, Homer and the Peninsula. Three Alaska newspapers have been sold to a New York-based media company, among nearly a dozen papers and U.S. media properties involved in the same deal. Atlanta, Ga.-based Morris Communications announced the sale of the Juneau Empire, the Homer News and the Kenai Peninsula Clarion to GateHouse Media Inc., in a statement on its website. The cost of the acquisition, which also includes newspapers in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas and Texas, was not disclosed.

Hunters and Trappers need $. Clyde River’s hunters and trappers group is in urgent need of money to fund its participation in the federal government’s assessment of potential offshore oil and gas development east of Baffin Island, the group said Aug. 4 in a letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board. “Oil and gas is clearly very controversial in our community and we have many concerns that need to be addressed. However, we require significant funding to meaningfully participate,” the Clyde River Hunters and Trappers Organization said in the letter, signed by its current chair, Jerry Natanine. Furthermore, “deep consultation” with Indigenous people, as defined by the Supreme Court of Canada, includes participant funding and that means Ottawa must provide the money to Clyde River, the letter said.

Alaska is betting on tourism. Facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, declining revenue and a public generally opposed to new taxes, the state has cut back on most services. In this year’s capital budget, there’s at least one area that’s getting some extra help. Tourism marketing is expanding. In December, Gov. Bill Walker proposed a grant of $3 million to market Alaska to tourists. That’s up from $1.5 million last year, and while the Legislature cut plenty of items from Walker’s budget proposal, it didn’t cut tourism dollars. “We thought we weren’t going to have any funding, then we got the good news that we received $3 million,” said Jillian Simpson, vice president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, which manages the state’s marketing efforts.

Proposal would make Juneau hotel tax third-highest in state. One topic on the agenda at tonight’s City and Borough of Juneau Finance Committee meeting has some hotel owners nervous. The committee is examining a proposed increase in the hotel bed tax for the first time since 1988 and whether to put it on the ballot for the Oct. 3 election. The proposal is also to use funds from the tax increase to help the new Juneau Arts and Culture Center (JACC). Though tonight’s meeting — at 5:30 p.m. in the Assembly Chambers at City Hall — is open to the public, there will be no public comment. The Finance Committee will vote on whether to forward this and the extension of the 1 percent sales tax increase to the Assembly. The Assembly will vote on whether to put the ordinances on the ballot at its next meeting, Aug. 21, which will be open for public comment.

First Reads:

Business groups punch back against energy tax legislation
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mark Scolforo, August 8, 2017

State gasline corp. gets favorable ruling from IRS
Alaska Journal of Commerce, Elwood Brehmer, August 8, 2017

Feds seek comments on Alaska’s in-state natural gas pipeline
KTOO Public Media, Rashah McChesney, August 8, 2017

Pruitt climate science challenge splits conservative allies
Politico, Emily Holden, August 9, 2017

U.S. oil prices slip as some OPEC producers export more
Reuters, David Gaffen, August 7, 2017

Juneau, Homer, Kenai newspapers get new owner in sweeping sale
KTVA, Chris Klint, August 9, 2017


Clyde River group says it needs funding to participate in Nunavut oil-gas study
Arctic Now/Nunatsiaq News, Jim Bell, August 9, 2017


State doubles tourism funding in capital budget
Juneau Empire, James Brooks, August 8, 2017
Hotel owners wary of possible bed tax increase
Juneau Empire, Alex McCarthy, August 8, 2017