NEWS OF THE DAY:
Alaska senator seeks ethics reviews of Interior officials
Heather Richards, GREENWIRE, December 10, 2021
Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan has asked the Interior Department’s watchdog to investigate four political appointees for potential conflicts of interest related to their work on Alaska energy projects.
In a Wednesday letter to Interior Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt, Sullivan said Interior officials who previously worked at conservation or advocacy groups that opposed federal fossil fuel programs — including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — are in key positions over those same programs.
Sullivan accused the Biden officials of “utilizing their government positions to work on matters directly and substantially related to their previous clients or employers to the benefit of these entities.”
He said, “These actions raise dire conflicts of interest and questions as to these appointees’ impartiality.”
Nada Culver, for example, serves as deputy director of policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management. She previously worked at the Audubon Society as public lands and senior policy counsel.
Audubon raised opposition to the ANWR oil program and the expansion of oil drilling opportunities in the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska, among other policies. Both decisions from the Trump era are now under review by the Biden administration.
Sullivan also asked for a review of Natalie Landreth, deputy solicitor for lands at Interior, who previously worked with the Native American Rights Fund, and solicitor Robert Anderson, who was an attorney at the Native American Rights Fund.
The senator said Laura Daniel-Davis, deputy assistant secretary for land and mineral management at DOI, should be investigated as well. Daniel-Davis was previously chief of policy and advocacy at the National Wildlife Federation.
Sullivan said energy projects that could be affected include the ConocoPhillips Willow oil project, the management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska, the Ambler Road project and ANWR.
A spokesperson for Interior declined to comment on Sullivan’s letter.
This is the second time Interior has been asked to review Culver’s involvement in Alaska decisions.
The Office of Inspector General began a probe on Culver’s involvement in the decision to pause several Alaska public lands orders this summer, when she was acting head of BLM, after a request from the group Protect the Public’s Trust (Greenwire, Sept. 2).
In addition to the request for an ethics investigation, Sullivan asked for the officials’ ethics pledges, any waivers they’ve obtained and their lists of recusals.
He requested records of communications, including personal mobile phone messages and Microsoft Teams chats, regarding issues like reviewing the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska’s management plan.
The Republican also asked for all internal communication the four officials have had with their former employers since their appointments in the Biden administration.
Biden’s strategic crude sale hasn’t inspired action from other nations
Serene Cheong, Debjit Chakraborty, Shoko Oda, World Oil, December 13, 2021
It’s been almost three weeks since the U.S. unveiled an internationally coordinated release of oil from national reserves, but so far there’s been little follow through from the other five nations.
President Joe Biden said on Nov. 23 that the U.S. would release 50 million barrels of crude from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve in “the next several months.” The unprecedented move would be done in parallel with China, Japan, South Korea, India, and the U.K., he said.
While the U.S. has granted its first release of SPR oil to Exxon Mobil Corp. and intends to issue another sale notice for 18 million barrels this week, there’s been radio silence from the other participants. That’s starting to prompt some skepticism in the market about whether they’ll go ahead at all, particularly after the omicron virus variant led to a sharp drop in global prices.
The Asian nations’ participation in what looks like a buyers’ cartel puts them in a tough spot, said John Driscoll, chief strategist at JTD Energy Services Pte.
“They can’t afford to jeopardize their relationships with major producers to satisfy a U.S. president who’ll be up for re-election in a few years,” he said. They may also “be reluctant to tap into their reserves ahead of peak winter demand, when supply disruptions can lead to major issues,” Driscoll said.
The joint release was unprecedented, given that there was no supply shock, and followed weeks of intensive lobbying by Biden after the OPEC+ alliance rebuffed calls to increase supply faster. It contributed to a decline in prices leading up to the announcement, but many in the market were underwhelmed by the volumes that the countries other than the U.S. pledged to release.
India was the only Asian nation that was definitive on volume, pledging to release 5 million barrels, although questions remain on timing. The head of Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd. said Dec. 3 that he was still waiting for advice from the federal government on how and when to sell the crude.
Japan has given no details on volumes or timing, although the Nikkei newspaper reported last month the country would release around 4.2 million barrels. South Korea said on Nov. 23 that it would decide on details such as volume and timing after discussing with partner countries but indicated it would be about 3.5 million barrels.
China has been somewhat ambiguous, with Beijing not wanting to look like it was following the U.S. It said in November that it was working on a sale of oil from its reserves, just days after a virtual summit between Biden and President Xi Jinping. A Western official familiar with the matter initially said the Chinese could sell between 7 million and 15 million barrels. There have been no official announcements since.
A UK government spokesperson, meanwhile, said companies could choose to participate in the joint release if they wish. If all contribute, it would result in the equivalent of 1.5 million barrels being sold, the spokesperson said.
The White House referred to a Nov. 29 briefing at which Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. was encouraging any country, including China, to be “as transparent as possible in any of their policy maneuvers,” when asked about other nations releasing reserves.
The sharp omicron-driven drop in crude prices at the end of November may have reduced the urgency to act quickly. However, more than half of that plunge has now been recouped on signs the new variant may not be as bad as initially thought. Global benchmark Brent continued its relief rally on Monday, rising around 1% after gaining more than 7% last week.
From the Washington Examiner, Daily on Energy:
REPORT URGES EUROPE TO BYPASS DIRTY RUSSIAN GAS: A new paper from the Progressive Policy Institute argues that Europe should move to reduce its reliance on natural gas from Russia for the environment’s sake and for its own geopolitical benefit.
Paul Bledsoe, strategic adviser at PPI and a lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy, notes that Europe is reliant on Russian imports for some 25% of its total gas supply — gas that is produced under less environmentally stringent conditions than in competing nations.
For that, Bledose recommends the continent import more lower-emitting natural gas products from the U.S. and build out LNG port infrastructure to replace Russian gas.
“The geopolitical costs of Russian gas continue to plague the EU broadly, and Ukraine and other Eastern European nations specifically,” Bledsoe writes in a summary, adding that limiting Russian imports “thus could diminish its political leverage over Europe while also helping the EU achieve its climate goals.”
Bledsoe’s conclusions especially echo the position of opponents, including congressional Republicans and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to an expanded Russian energy footprint in Europe via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. They would also seem to give strength to the case against a ban on U.S. fuel commodity exports.
Alaska weighs asking feds for wetlands permit powers
Jael Holzman, Hannah Northey, Ariel Wittenberg, GREENWIRE, December 10, 2021
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy yesterday said he’s preparing to ask state legislators to support a bid to take over wetlands permitting under the Clean Water Act.
It’s a move that would affect future permits for the contentious Pebble mine, as well as other mines in the state, although the Republican governor acknowledged it would be a “tall task” to get primary control over Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which permits dredging and filling of wetlands and waterways. Only three states currently have such authority.
“But we’re going to work on it, and we believe we’re going to be successful,” he told an audience at the American Exploration and Mining Association’s annual conference at the Nugget Casino Resort, just outside Reno, Nev. The governor’s pledge was met with rapturous applause.
The request will also ask for funding to seek primacy under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a statute governing hazardous waste.
“We’re going to work on that as well,” he said.
Florida was the last state to receive approval from EPA to take over wetland regulation under the Clean Water Act, joining ranks at the end of the Trump administration with Michigan and New Jersey (Greenwire, Dec. 17, 2020).
Then-EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler invited other states to apply for the same authority.
Under the Clean Water Act, states or tribes can seek to take over permitting and administering the Section 404 program. Before approving such a request, EPA must determine whether a state has a sufficient program to implement and enforce the federal 404 permitting program.
Federal wetlands regulations have been controversial for decades in Alaska, a state where 174 million acres of wetlands cover more than 40 percent of the land area. What’s left is often mountainous, meaning most developments — including real estate, energy, and mining projects — damage wetlands.
Under the Clean Water Act, developers whose projects damage wetlands must restore, replace, or preserve similar, nearby wetlands to compensate for such losses, something that can be difficult in such a water-logged state.
That’s why back in the 1990s, the Army Corps, Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, and NOAA signed the Alaska Wetlands Initiative, which said those mitigation requirements could be fulfilled by merely minimizing a project’s wetlands impacts. Developers wouldn’t be required to compensate for projects that are located in watersheds with a high proportion of wetlands and with few nearby damaged wetlands to restore.
That policy was revoked in 2018 after an E&E News report revealed that the Army Corps of Engineers had not been requiring any compensatory mitigation for the majority of Clean Water Act wetlands permits in the state, including projects that would permanently destroy more than 100 acres (Greenwire, May 29, 2018).
The new compensatory mitigation policy ultimately was critical in the Army Corps of Engineers’ denial of a permit to Pebble mine, which would have permanently destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands in the pristine Bristol Bay watershed, where there are not many opportunities to restore damaged wetlands (Greenwire, Nov. 25, 2020).
Dunleavy’s remarks did not specify how much money the governor will request from the Legislature, how the money would specifically be used or at what point the state would ask EPA for permission to assume permitting responsibilities under Section 404.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office told E&E News in an email the request is “an ongoing process” and more details about the funding will be in the Dunleavy’s budget request to be released by Wednesday.
But the governor’s comments are already drawing questions and some pushback. Victoria Clark, executive director of the Trustees of Alaska, a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm, said the state is in a fiscal crisis and administering a wetlands program is expensive.
The fact that only three states have their own programs, she added, shows the significant demands that are tied to state administration.
“Alaska taking on the program was summarily dismissed years ago because it made no sense,” said Clark. “Nothing has changed since then except the governor’s declared war on the federal government.”
Alaska Commissioner of Natural Resources Corri Feige also told the Nevada conference audience that the state is preparing to legally challenge the Army Corps’ permit denial of the Pebble mine last year. A previous effort to appeal the denial directly through agency channels was rejected earlier this year on the grounds the state lacked standing, Feige said.
“We still have remedy through the courts. So, when the time is right, we’ll be taking that up, because we believe that it is not only germane to sovereign issues in Alaska, but it has sovereignty issues for people trying to mine in other places as well,” she said.
Indigenous tribes, environmentalists and others have opposed mining the massive copper and gold deposit at Bristol Bay, saying it could wreak havoc on a critical salmon fishery. This fall, EPA also said it would reopen a proposed veto of the project (Greenwire, Sept. 9).
Making Alaska ‘even more attractive’
Amid the controversy over Pebble, Dunleavy came to the mining industry conference with a clear message: His administration will do what it can to make the state appealing to miners.
“Although Alaska already ranks highly as a mineral jurisdiction, we are working to make our state even more attractive for investment, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here,” he said. “We want to put mining at the forefront.”
Dunleavy did not reference Pebble by name during his keynote speech at the event, and Feige spoke about the mine only after an attendee asked about the status of the project during a question-and-answer period.
Dunleavy did, however, list several Alaskan mines in operation today that he considered to be “success stories,” including Teck Resources’ Red Dog zinc mine in the northwest part of the state and Hecla Mining Co.’s Greens Creek, one of the largest silver mines in the world.
He also touted Coeur Mining’s Kensington gold mine roughly 45 miles outside the capitol city of Juneau. The Forest Service issued a draft record of decision in July that would extend the life of the mine by 10 years, allowing it to operate through 2033.
The governor also used the speech to take several shots at the Biden administration and Democratic policymakers, accusing them of sending jobs overseas by standing in the way of new mining projects.
“This idea that we’re going to do away with mining and we’ll end something terrible? I’ve got news for those people, because the demand for those minerals is not going away,” Dunleavy said.
Alaskans form “Defend Our Constitution” to Oppose Constitutional Convention
For Immediate Release
December 12, 2021
Every ten years the Lt. Governor is required to place on the general election ballot the following
question: “Shall there be a constitutional convention?” It will appear on the November 1, 2022
ballot. Today a statewide gathering of Alaskans representing a broad spectrum of political
views came together to form “Defend our Constitution.” This group has filed with the Alaska
Public Offices Commission as a ballot measure group opposing the ballot question.
Legal scholars have long regarded Alaska’s Constitution to be a model constitution that is at
once innovative and concise in defining the role of government in our society. In short, our Alaska
Constitution isn’t broken and remains a stabilizing guide through these politically turbulent
times. A constitutional convention would be chaotic, expensive, and create the opportunity for
outside special interest groups and dark money to change Alaska’s laws to promote their agenda
over the interest of Alaskans.
The group also announced eight campaign Co-Chairs:
Cathy Giessel – Anchorage
John Coghill – Fairbanks
Bruce Botelho – Juneau
Representative Bryce Edgmon – Dillingham
Gail Schubert – Bering Straits
Joelle Hall – Anchorage
Bill Corbus – Juneau
Luke Hopkins – Fairbanks
Statements from the Co-Chairs as well as press contact information are included below.
“Our political system is broken, but our Constitution is not broken. Alaska’s Constitution provides
the foundation needed for economic and social stability. This is not the time to emotionally shred
our guiding document. A Constitutional Convention would risk special interests and big money
lobbyists rewriting it to suit their goals, not to the benefit of Alaskans. Alaska’s Constitution is not
broken – don’t mess with it.”
Cathy Giessel, Anchorage
“Think long and hard before we open our constitution for wholesale rewrite in these politically
polarized times. Noble and civil discourse is required for such an undertaking.”
John Coghill, Fairbanks
“The Alaska Constitution was carefully crafted in 1955 based on the benefit of lessons learned
from the other 48 states that had come before Alaska. As a living breathing document, it should be
subject to the scrutiny of voters through the statewide election process. But there is no
compelling reason to scrap the entire document and start from from scratch. To do so would
engender chaos and disruption for Alaskans of all walks of life.”
Representative Bryce Edgmon, Dillingham
“Alaska’s Constitution is a model of simplicity, brevity and clarity in allocating the powers of
government and protecting the rights of citizens. When circumstances have dictated the need for
change, this has been readily accomplished through a rigorous amendment process that requires a
2/3 vote of each house and an affirmative vote of the people. A constitutional convention has the
power to start from scratch, with all of the trade-offs and license to abandon the very institutions
that have served the people of Alaska well since statehood.”
Bruce Botelho, Juneau
“The Alaska Constitution is a document all Alaskans should be proud of. Written in a time when
people could reasonably debate issues, the delegates built a framework to grow our new state.
This framework remains sound today. There is no doubt Alaska has issues that we need to resolve,
but opening the Constitution for a rewrite is the wrong way to solve these issues. Working families
and retirees depend on the Constitution to protect their rights and the benefits they have earned
over a lifetime.”
Joelle Hall, Anchorage
“The legislative process used by our representatives to consider individual changes to our
constitution has been the orderly method for our citizens to modify our constitution. Voters have
repeatedly chosen this method over the last four decades rather than open our whole constitution
Luke Hopkins, Fairbanks
“I oppose holding a Constitutional Convention because the Alaska Permanent Fund and its original
intended use will be adversely changed. I believe that the annual payout will be increased to
unsustainable levels, to the detriment of future generations. Furthermore, the dividend will be
anchored and set at so high a payout rate that insufficient monies will be available to help fund the
cost of government.”
Bill Corbus, Juneau
“I am blessed to serve with other Alaskans discussing the issue of whether a state Constitutional
convention should be held in 2022, a question that has arisen and been voted down by Alaskans
every ten years since 1972. The state Constitution currently in place has worked for many
decades to ensure that the rights of all Alaskans are preserved.”
Gail Schubert, CEO, Bering Straits Native Corporation
More than half of young people surveyed think ‘humanity is doomed’ due to climate change
Rachel Koning Beals, Market Watch, December 11, 2021
Three-quarters of respondents under age 25 said they believe ‘the future is frightening’ in Lancet-published global survey
Global citizens under the age of 25 roundly believe that governments are letting them down when it comes to an aggressive handling of global warming and dangerous weather — and they’re fed up with being told to meditate to cope.
Nearly 60% of young people surveyed said they were “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change, and 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning, according to a study published Thursday in the science journal The Lancet Planetary Health.
“I grew up being afraid of drowning in my own bedroom,” said Mitzi Tan, a 23-year-old from the Philippines, who was featured in the study’s report. The query included 10,000 participants aged 16 to 25 across 10 countries: the U.S., the U.K., France, Finland, Australia, Portugal, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Brazil.
“Society tells me that this anxiety is an irrational fear that needs to be overcome — one that meditation and healthy coping mechanisms will ‘fix,’” Tan said. “But that erases the accountability from those who are directly causing this fear. At its root, our climate anxiety comes from this deep-set feeling of betrayal because of government inaction. To truly address our growing climate anxiety, we need justice.”
Nearly two-thirds of young people said their governments were not doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe, and 58% felt governments were “betraying me and/or future generations.”
Three-quarters of respondents said they believe “the future is frightening,” and 56% felt “humanity is doomed.”
Study authors contributed from the University of Bath, New York University Langone Health, Stanford University, the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, and other academic institutions. They stressed the significance of the anxiety survey’s reach across several regions of the world.
In the U.S. alone, 2021 featured the hottest July ever recorded, the largest wildfire in California history amid a series of fires, and deadly Hurricane Ida’s devastating winds and flooding from the Gulf Coast up through parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.