Headlamp: Walker’s busy Thursday – rejection, special session, court motion

Headlamp wishes you a safe and fun Labor Day weekend. We’ll be back on Tuesday, September 5th!

Forth time’s a charm? That’s not the saying Governor. Gov. Bill Walker said Thursday that he will call the Legislature back for a fourth special session primarily focused on revenue. The session would convene on Oct. 23 in Juneau. Walker did not say what revenue options he’ll put on agenda for the session. There is a $2.36 billion gap between what the state spends and what it raises in taxes, fees and oil royalties. The Legislature has used savings to close that gap the last three years. Walker said in a statement: “We cannot continue to rely on the volatility of oil prices to fund classrooms, roads and troopers.” Members of the mostly Democratic House majority said they’re willing to consider what Walker proposes.

And the hits just keep coming… On Tuesday, the Walker administration denied a proposal by ExxonMobil Corp. to expand oil production at the Point Thomson field, calling it “vague” and asserting the oil giant is not meeting the terms of a 2012 settlement that allowed it to keep operating there. The rejection by Division of Oil and Gas Director Chantal Walsh comes after the state struggled for decades to force ExxonMobil to develop the field, located just west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska.

All aboard? Not so fast. A month after lawmakers wrapped up a third special session, Gov. Bill Walker is calling them back for a fourth. This time, on raising new revenues — which could mean a statewide tax. Earlier this year, the Senate voted down an income tax Walker supported. “We’ve been clear that spending cuts, a spending limit and no income taxes are very important to us — and our position won’t change much on that,” said Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks). “Unless there’s something new, it might be a waste of time. If we’re just going to rehash old stuff, I don’t see things changing much.”

Will he or won’t he? Mark Begich in an interview with Channel 2 News sounded like he is gearing up to run for governor, but the former U.S. senator said he is in no hurry to make a firm decision. The Democrat is the most prominent member of his party in Alaska, and what he settles on in the end will have big implications for a race that will be difficult to predict under almost any scenario. Gov. Bill Walker was elected in 2014 as an Independent with support of the Democratic Party, and he is attempting to follow a similar path to another term.

Let’s go back to the way it was. The State of Alaska is going to stand by President Donald Trump’s side in court to defend an order aiming to reopen large parts of the Arctic Ocean to oil drilling. Today, Gov. Bill Walker’s administration filed a motion to intervene in support of President Trump in a lawsuit over whether he can reverse President Obama’s Arctic drilling ban. In the waning weeks of his Presidency, Obama removed the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea from any future oil leasing. Then in April, President Trump signed an executive order to reverse that decision. Soon after that, a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, claiming the reversal is illegal.

Thank you for your service? Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to do away with special envoys focused on the Arctic and climate change, as part of his effort to overhaul the State Department. The proposal comes just months after Tillerson visited Alaska and spoke about the importance of the Arctic. Some worry it’s a sign the Trump administration will be less engaged in the region. Tillerson came to Fairbanks in May to hand over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the main organization for cooperation among the world’s eight Arctic nations.

We have a quorum. On August 4, the Senate confirmed the nominations of Neil Chatterjee and Robert F. Powelson to fill two of the four open seats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), ending a six-month, no-quorum period. FERC entered a no-quorum period in February of this year when the number of commissioners fell below the required minimum of three. With a voting quorum reestablished, the commissioners can begin issuing certifications for natural gas pipeline projects and considering other backlogged orders and issues. The first commission meeting, open to the public via webcast, will be held on September 20.

Strength in numbers. Four members of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition called on the US Department of the Interior to include all leasing options in the 2019-24 Outer Continental Shelf program that are being developed, “understanding that circumstances affecting leasing decisions could change during the course of the program’s development and implementation.” Access to offshore energy resources will allow coastal states and communities to realize significant opportunities, Gov. Paul R. LePage (R-Me.), the coalition’s chairman, and Govs. Phil Bryant (R-Miss.), Kay Ivey (R-Ala.), and Bill Walker (I-Alas.) said in their Aug. 17 letter to US Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke.

First Reads:

State rej ExxonMobil plan to expand oil production at Point Thomson
Alaska Dispatch News, Alex DeMarban, August 31, 2017

Gov. Walkerays fourth special will be in October, focus on revenue
Alaska Public Media, Andrew Kitchenman, August 31, 2017

Senate President on 4th special session: ‘It might be a waste of time’
KTVA, Liz Raines, August 31, 2017

Mark Begich sounds like he wants to run for governor, but no firm decision yet
KTUU, Austin Baird, August 31, 2017

Walker lends support to Trump in lawsuit over Arctic drilling
Alaska Public Media, Elizabeth Harball, August 31, 2017

Tillerson proposes scrapping Arctic and climate envoys
Alaska Public Media, Rachel Waldholz, August 31, 2017

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regains quorum
U.S. Energy Information Administration Natural Gas Weekly Update, August 31, 2017

Four coastal state governors express support for more OCS leasing
Oil & Gas Journal, Nick Snow, August 21, 2017