No budget? No per diem. Alaskans who think their legislators are overpaid will get to decide the issue. On Friday, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott approved a ballot measure that would stop lawmakers’ expense payments if they fail to pass a state budget on time. The measure, officially called “An Act Relating to Government Accountability to the People of the State of Alaska,” would also toughen conflict-of-interest disclosure rules, prohibit most state-paid foreign travel by legislators, further restrict the ability of lobbyists to buy food and drink for lawmakers, and restrict campaign donations from foreign corporations. Mallott’s action allows ballot measure backers — including two legislators — to start gathering signatures. According to state law, backers must have the signatures of at least 32,127 registered voters to put the measure to voters. In order to put the measure on a 2018 ballot, they need to have those signatures before the Legislature convenes in January. If approved by voters, the measure would halt per-diem expense payments for legislators when they fail to approve a state operating budget before the 121-day constitutional limit of the regular session.
“Stupid” and “job killing” climate change rule to be repealed. The Trump administration on Tuesday will formally propose repealing Barack Obama’s landmark climate change rule for power plants, a key part of the U.S. commitment to reduce emissions under the Paris accord. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt told a Kentucky audience on Monday that he will sign paperwork on Tuesday to repeal the rule, which he argued exceeded the previous administration’s authority and treated coal communities unfairly. “The Clean Power Plan, it wasn’t about regulating to make things regular,” Pruitt said Monday at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to raucous applause. “It was truly about regulating to pick winners and losers.” Pruitt gave his remarks at a Hazard, Ky., mining and construction equipment business, in the heart of Eastern Kentucky’s hard-hit coal country. The Obama rule was expected to significantly hurt the coal industry since coal-fired power plants are the biggest carbon emitters. But Pruitt’s announcement was also a rebuke of what he and Republicans see as Obama’s “war on coal.” He and other Republicans are that numerous regulations that have hurt the coal industry, which was already reeling from competition from cheap natural gas. The EPA’s announcement is the first major step toward fulfilling a key campaign promise Trump made to repeal the climate rule that he’s called “stupid” and “job-killing.”
Will OPEC move to restore market balance? Oil prices stabilized on Monday after one of the most bearish weeks in months, propped up by OPEC comments signaling the possibility of further action to restore market balance in the long term. Oil production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico started returning to service after Hurricane Nate had forced the shutdown of more than 90 percent of crude output in the area. The prospective restarts kept price gains in check. “Oil is having trouble to find direction. Mixed signals keep investors busy changing their minds,” said Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro. “There is a good chance that we will continue to trade a bit sideways in the coming weeks up to the OPEC meeting.” The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is due to meet in Vienna on Nov. 30, when it will discuss its pact to reduce output in order to prop up the market.
New deadline for Dakota Access decision. Federal lawyers said Friday that the government’s court-ordered environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline will be complete by next spring, not this year, as previously expected. In a court filing, the Army Corps of Engineers said it was pushing back its review schedule while it waits for new oil spill modeling from the developers of Dakota Access. “The Corps’ original estimate that its review and analysis of the remand issues would conclude between late November and early December 2017 was based in part upon the Corps’ understanding that it would take Dakota Access approximately thirty days to provide the requested information,” lawyers wrote in their filing. “Given the current expected time frame for the receipt of additional information, the Corps now anticipates that its review and analysis of the remand issues will not conclude until approximately April 2, 2018. The Corps is actively working on ways to shorten this timeline,” they wrote.
New Sheriff at DOA to focus on costs. Gov. Bill Walker announced Friday that he appointed Leslie Ridle to be commissioner of the Department of Administration. Ridle said her focus will be on the bottom line. “Our priorities are to create as many efficiencies as we can for the state,” Ridle said. “We’ve been working really hard to provide service to the public and to our internal agencies, to save money and to reduce costs and do as much as we can to help with the state budget.” The Department of Administration serves other state agencies, including overseeing labor relations. It also provides indigent defense and children’s legal advocacy. Ridle has served as the acting commissioner for the past month, after serving as the deputy commissioner for more than two years. The department will negotiate contracts with seven labor bargaining units in the coming year. Ridle didn’t say whether the administration will pursue pay freezes supported by some lawmakers. “We’re just getting started on most of them this fall, so of course pay will be a topic of the negotiations,” she said. “I don’t know for sure what all will come up at this point. I can’t negotiate here on the radio with you, but everything’s on the table in the beginning, of course.”
Not so special session number 4. Crime and taxes are very much on the minds of Kenai Peninsula residents as the Legislature gears up for its fourth special session this year. Gov. Bill Walker has called the Legislature back to Juneau to deal with two bills — one that would establish a statewide employment tax and another that would tweak the state’s criminal justice system, recently overhauled by Senate Bill 91. The central Kenai Peninsula delegation — Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna — aren’t thrilled about having to go back to Juneau so soon. After all, they just finished their third special session in July, having been in Juneau since January. Micciche, who served as Senate Majority Leader this year, said the Senate doesn’t plan to stay in Juneau long this time. “Our request to the governor’s office from the Senate Majority was that we spend this fall wisely and that we gather in Anchorage outside of session and have work sessions where the Democrat-led House can talk about why they think we need so much more money and the Senate can talk about why we believe that we can contain costs and have less need for additional revenue,” Micciche said. “Instead, (Walker) dropped another tax. It’s not going to bring people together, it’s … going to keep people apart.”
EPA to repeal landmark Obama climate rule
The Hill, Timothy Cama and Devin Henry, October 9, 2017
Oil prices steady after OPEC signals possible deal extension
Reuters, Devika Krishna Kumar, October 8, 2017
Feds push back deadline for new Dakota Access review
The Hill, Devin Henry, October 6, 2017
Ridle to focus on costs as administration commissioner
KTOO, Andrew Kitchenman, October 6, 2017
Crime, tax bill on docket for Legislative special session
Peninsula Clarion, Elizabeth Earl, October 5, 2017
Lt. Gov. Mallott approves per diem ballot measure
Juneau Empire, James Brooks, October 9, 2017