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Sally Jewell Interior Secretary Nomination Hearing Live Webcast

7:47 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

You can click here to watch the U.S. Committee on Natural Resources confirmation hearing of Sally Jewell, to replace Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior.  Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is ranking member, and may put a hold on the nomination, over a longstanding rural access road issue on the western Alaska peninsula:

One senator has indicated she may put up a barrier to the confirmation however. Ranking senator, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has said she might hold up the nomination to ensure approval of an Alaskan road to connect a remote Aleutian village to an all-weather airport used for medical evacuations. The road would need to pass through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a sensitive environmental area. The project has been denied for more than 30 years by the Fish and Wildlife Service. They said last month that they would again deny a proposed land swap that would enable the road to be built.

Here is a link to Jewell’s written statement, submitted before the hearing.

Sally Jewell at Interior?

4:31 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Sally Jewell

REI CEO Sally Jewell will be nominated for Secretary of the Interior.

The Obama administration has announced that they will nominate Recreational Equipment Inc. Chief Executive Officer, Sally Jewell, to replace Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior:

Jewell is an outdoor enthusiast with a conservation background. But she has a mechanical engineering degree and worked for Mobil Oil, now Exxon Mobil, in Oklahoma and Colorado for three years after college. She also spent 19 years in the commercial banking industry before she became an executive for REI.

Among the banks Jewell worked for was Washington Mutual, where she was employed when the financial institution was growing rapidly from local savings bank to sub-prime lending giant, gobbling up eleven smaller banks along the way.

While at WaMu, Jewell became an REI board member, and progressed up to CEO.  I’ve read several favorable articles or member newsletters about her activities there.  I’ve been a member of the co-op since early 1966, when I joined to get some of their fine rock climbing rope and hardware.

At the time of her nomination, Jewell was still a board member of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, where my daughter Julia, an Americorps employee there, got to know her.

When I told Julia about the nomination, she was surprised: “Oh. My. God!”

Her impressions of Jewell are very positive.  She’s concerned that the nominee will get eaten alive in the cynical environment of the secretarial confirmation process.

Julia relates that Jewell has been very outspoken and public in her support of LBGT issues in Washington, and in the same-sex marriage initiative there.  She also had not heard any chatter in the Seattle area about Jewell being a possible nominee.  A lot of people had been talking up former Washington Governor, Christine Gregoire.

I thought Obama would probably nominate former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, or Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Alaska reactions so far were recorded by Anchorage Daily News reporter, Sean Cockerham, in an article filed early this afternoon:

Drilling advocates in Congress said they wanted to know more. Jewell will face intensive questioning during her confirmation hearings from Republicans who argue that Obama hasn’t done enough for drilling on federal lands. 

“I look forward to hearing about the qualifications Ms. Jewell has that make her a suitable candidate to run such an important agency, and how she plans to restore balance to the Interior Department,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The oil industry offered a cautious response to the nomination. 

“We look forward to learning how Sally Jewell’s business background and experience in the oil and natural gas industry will shape her approach to the game-changing prospects before us in energy development,” said Jack Gerard, the chief executive officer of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main trade group.

Whatever Murkowski means by “balance” in the DOI, I suspect she wants even more corporate access to national treasures than Obama has already given, which is far too much:

Conservation advocates hope that Jewell will do more for their cause than her predecessor as interior secretary, Ken Salazar, who’s stepping down after four years in the job under Obama.

Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary under President Bill Clinton, said this week that the Obama administration had leased far too much land for oil and gas development compared with what had been permanently protected.

“This lopsided public land administration in favor of the oil and gas industry cannot continue,” Babbitt said.

Mountain state conservative, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) reacted predictably. He’s chairman of the House Natural Resources’ Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee:

Read the rest of this entry →

List of Questions on Shell’s Alaska 2012 Arctic Drilling Fiasco Grows Longer by the Day

2:18 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk aground

Back on July 27th, when I first started covering aspects of Shell Alaska’s plans to begin offshore drilling off our coasts up here, I already had questions.  That day, I wrote, reminiscing about what I knew of the spill response barge Arctic Challenger back in 1982 :

Crew members of towing tugs had been injured over the five years since the barge’s completion, and it was not considered to be a “good luck” barge in fleet scuttlebutt. It never really found a niche after the Sealifts were over.  It languished, being shuttled from Seattle to the Gulf of Mexico to Coos Bay, Oregon, where it stayed for a long time.

The next week I went to Bellingham harbor, where the barge was being outfitted with a new, untried piece of equipment.  Shell didn’t answer my calls for an appointment request, so I showed up at 7:45 am at the security office, and managed to get inside two layers of security before a gatekeeper decided I had the look of somebody who might be asking too many questions.  He was right.

Shell refused to let me photograph or even view the work being done on the Challenger and its containment dome apparatus.  Instead:

[The project director] flatly told me “No,” and I was not allowed to take any photographs of the vessel.  He assured me that Shell Oil will be contacting me soon with more information.

The ambience of the work place there reminded me very much of projects in the past where I have worked that are seriously behind schedule and nervous of potential outcomes.

I was followed by private police until I left Bellingham.

Although Shell wasn’t ready to share their work with me, it proved impossible to hide either the vessel’s dismal history or its shortcomings from the public.  Longtime Alaska reporter, Alex De Marban, wrote in mid-August, that in 2007, while rusting away in Long Beach, California harbor, the Arctic Challenger attracted so many birds, it was temporarily declared a “bird sanctuary” for Caspian terns:

At one point, hundreds of Caspian terns, gulls, cormorants, pelicans, ravens, crows and even an owl turned the 300-foot barge into a giant’s bird nest, coating the deck with bird dung and other gunk. That was in California’s Long Beach Harbor in 2007, where the downtrodden vessel became a bit of a media celebrity as wildlife regulators raced to save the protected terns and their chicks.

De Marban didn’t have many questions in mid-August, but he noted that others did: Read the rest of this entry →

Shell Oil Rig Kulluk Being Ground into Razor Blades on Rocky Alaska Beach. Questions Arise.

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk on the beach 01:01:13

The marine weather forecast seemed good enough for mid or late December, when the oceangoing tug Aiviq began towing the cumbersome giant oil drilling platform Kulluk out of Dutch Harbor on the eve of the Winter Solstice:

The Kulluk left Dutch Harbor, a staging port for Shell, the afternoon of Dec. 21 under tow by the Aiviq, headed to the Seattle area for off-season maintenance. The weather forecast for the next few days was typical, even a bit tame, for winter along the Aleutian chain and into the Gulf of Alaska: Winds of 17 to 35 mph, seas of 7 to 15 feet.

“Toward Kodiak Island, there was nothing of real significance,” said Sam Albanese, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “It was a pretty benign forecast.”

But by the afternoon of Dec. 25, the outlook had shifted from a prediction of more gale-force winds to a near storm at sea with winds topping 50 mph, he said.

And that’s what hit the Kulluk and the Aiviq last week.

By Saturday night, the winds were near hurricane force, the Coast Guard said.

Things got worse, as the lines attached from the tug to the rig parted on four occasions, between Thursday evening and Monday night:

As the Kulluk headed to the Lower 48 on Thursday, the tow shackle failed between the drilling rig and its tug — Shell’s Aiviq. A second towline was attached, but later the engines on the Aiviq failed, leaving the two vessels adrift at sea. The 266-foot diameter Kulluk has no propulsion system of its own.

Another ship, the Coast Guard’s 282-foot cutter Alex Haley, was dispatched to reconnect the towline. However, 35-foot seas and 40-mph winds, coupled with the size of the vessels, caused the towline to disconnect, and the Haley retreated to Kodiak for repairs. On Sunday, the Kulluk’s 18-person crew was evacuated.

Then, after dispatching yet another ship — the Prince William Sound-based Alert tug — the Kulluk was reconnected to its tow vessels early Monday. Later Monday morning, the Aiviq tug also re-established its connection to the Kulluk about 19 miles southeast of Kodiak Island, but lost its link later in the day.

By Monday evening, the Coast Guard was planning to tow the Kulluk to safe harbor at Port Hobron on the southeast side of Kodiak Island, as well as deploy several technicians on board the Kulluk to inspect the tow lines on the rig.

As the weather worsened, the Alert tug’s crew, which was struggling to tow the Kulluk on its own, was order to separate from the rig. By 9 p.m., the Kulluk was sitting in the surf at rocky Ocean Bay, its draft having run aground.

Over night, Monday-Tuesday, the worst of the present storm seemed to play out, but there is still a large swell coming onshore at the place of the stranding.

Within two hours of the grounding, the so-called Unified Command, comprising Shell Alaska, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Noble Drilling, held a press notification event at the expanded response headquarters, in Anchorage’s Marriot Hotel.  About 250 people are involved in the Anchorage-based efforts.  In a conference convened Tuesday at 2:00 local time, again at the Anchorage Marriott, it was claimed that over 500 people are currently involved in facets of the response.

As events have unfolded and been made public Tuesday, there have been several responses from the Alaska environmental community, from the head of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Ed Markey, but nothing substantive from Alaska’s U.S. Congressional delegation, who have been totally supportive of Shell’s Arctic drilling venture.

This morning Markey said “the accident revealed that ‘drilling expansion could prove disastrous for this sensitive environment.’”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski made a brief comment:

Read the rest of this entry →

FDA Approves Frankenfish – What Could Possibly Go Wrong ….?

10:13 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

On December 21st, the Food and Drug Administration announced that the first genetically-engineered animal ever approaching approval for public consumption — a hybrid Chinook Salmon-Pouty — has been declared to have “no significant impact” on the environment.  As of the 21st, the FDA’s tentative approval of this GMO salmon, called “Frankenfish” by its many detractors, entered a 60-day public comment period.

In Alaska, home of a high percentage of the world’s remaining wild salmon, and a state where fish farming has been banned since 1989, the state’s three national legislators quickly responded to the FDA decision.  Most colorful, Republican Representative Don Young quipped:

“You keep those damn fish out of my waters. It will ruin what I think is one of the finest products in the world,” (Congressman Don) Young said in an interview, saying he fears that the spread of fish farms could eventually contaminate the wild salmon industry in Alaska. He wants to force delays in any FDA approval.

“If I can keep this up long enough, I can break that company,” he said, referring to AquaBounty, “and I admit that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski put out a press release and video:

Kenai River angler Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was railing against ”Frankenfish” again on Friday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave a green flag to long-running efforts to produce bigger, faster-growing, genetically modified salmon. Murkowski, backed by Alaska fishing organizations, has repeatedly tried to stop such approval by tying the agency up in red tape.

She previously tried, but failed, to get the Senate to require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) be intimately involved in the process. She said again and again she thought a more thorough scientific review of the biotechnology was in order. But she sort of let slip on Friday that the demand for better science was really more of a smokescreen for efforts to simply kill the idea.

In a video released by her office outlining her renewed opposition, she stated flatly, “I just don’t believe that these fish should be approved.”

And Alaska’s junior Senator, Democrat Mark Begich denounced the FDA plan:

Read the rest of this entry →

PEER Sues BSEE Over Non-response on FOIA Seeking Arctic Drilling Testing Safety Records

11:04 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The crushed containment dome from Shell's Arctic Challenger

The activist watchdog organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), filed suit today in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, against the Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).  The suit, brought under the Freedom of Information Act, seeks to force BSEE to “disclose records wrongfully withheld in failing to respond within the statutory deadline to Plaintiff’s five FOIA requests.”

PEER, along with other parties, has been trying to unravel what happened in September, in Puget Sound, when testing of the containment dome apparatus Shell hoped to deploy in the Arctic later that month failed catastrophically. Although BSEE responded in November to an FOIA request from Seattle’s KUOW Radio, they have not responded to any of the similar requests from PEER.  Here’s an extract the environmental NGO’s press release on the suit:

The federal agency overseeing offshore oil and gas operations slated for this spring in Arctic waters lacks basic assurances that disastrous spills and other accidents will be prevented or effectively contained, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At issue are the safeguards required to protect against such known hazards as sea ice, subsurface ice scour and blowouts, as well as specifications for well design and well integrity control.

A relatively new agency called the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), within the Interior Department, has jurisdiction over offshore drilling operations in federal waters, including the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf. The agency, however, has not been able to respond to series of requests posed by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act asking for records detailing how BSEE will approach issues ranging from sea ice to spill containment.

“We have yet to see any evidence supporting the claim that Interior has upgraded the lax enforcement enabling the BP Gulf spill. In fact, what few records we have been able to pry loose suggest just the opposite,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization today filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “This material on operational safety should be on the world-wide web, not locked away in a proprietary safe.”

What little information BSSE has disclosed raises more doubts about its independence from industry. In September, following an earlier PEER lawsuit, the agency was forced to concede that it had done only partial and cursory testing with no independent analysis of the results for the capping system to prevent a repeat of the large, lengthy Gulf of Mexico blowout in the sensitive Arctic waters.

Since July, Firedoglake has been covering the strange odyssey of the Arctic Challenger, the old barge Shell is converting to one of the main features of its impending Arctic offshore drilling program.  PEER will keep us updated on progress of its five previous FOIA actions, and of this lawsuit.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced his department’s plan for petroleum development of the region of northwest Alaska known as NPR-A, an area about the size of the state of Maine:

The Interior Department’s plan for managing a vast petroleum reserve on Alaska’s North Slope calls for a roughly 50-50 split between conservation and oil development plus accommodation for a pipeline that could carry offshore Arctic Ocean oil to the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday announced that the plan will allow for development of nearly 12 million acres within the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, an area roughly the size of Indiana.

Salazar said in his announcement that the plan will guide the transition from leasing and exploration to responsible production and transport of the reserve’s oil and gas.

One feature of the plan Salazar introduced is that it appears it will tie in directly to the infrastructure Shell will need to develop to market the oil it intends to produce from its impending offshore production wells.  However, Alaska GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski is concerned that Salazar’s plan doesn’t give energy giants like Shell some sort of blank slate:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she remained concerned that the plan sets up hurdles for pipelines carrying oil drilled offshore in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas to the trans-Alaska pipeline. Salazar should make it clear, she said, that future environmental review of potential pipeline routes will not prohibit their construction or make them prohibitively costly.

In regard to the PEER lawsuit, it isn’t at all clear why BSEE responded to KUOW‘s FOIA, yet seems to have ignored PEER’s five similar requests.

In regard to Salazar’s December 19th announcement, though Sen. Murkowski was critical of the safeguards Interior seems to have put in place in the plan, Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Mark Begich, was less critical:

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said more than 200 exploration wells have been drilled in the NPR-A since the 1940s and the U.S. Geological Survey estimates reserves at 900 million barrels of technically recoverable oil and 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Begich said in a press release that he was pleased that the plan included provisions to transport oil through the reserve but that the Interior Department has not cleared restrictions on petroleum development in the eastern portion.

From my perspective, it seems the Obama administration is bound to support Shell’s endeavors, along with those of other energy companies, in northwestern Alaska, and off its Arctic shores, far more than has any previous administration. Read the rest of this entry →

Alaska Legislator Who Refused TSA Grope to Arrive in Juneau This Morning – by Ferry Boat – Updated

7:16 am in Government, Legislature by EdwardTeller

Alaska state legislator Sharon Cissna (source: AK State Legislature)

After her mastectomy padding showed up in the invasive full-body X-ray scan at Sea-Tac Airport on Sunday, Alaska Representative Sharon Cissna (D – District K Anchorage) refused to go through a highly invasive pat-down.  Unlike some who have refused this insulting procedure, Cissna was allowed to leave the airport.  She had been searched before.  After telling her husband she would never submit to such indignity again, she kept her word.

Apparently, Cissna went from Sea-Tac to British Columbia, where she caught a plane to Prince Rupert, where the Alaska Ferry MV Matanuska was scheduled to dock early in the week, as it worked its way north from Bellingham, Washington to Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

From Prince Rupert, before boarding the ferry, which doesn’t have  wifi, and only intermittent cell phone coverage, Cissna wrote a letter to constituents:

The evening of the 20th of February 2011 started with relief, as I was anxious to get back to the important work of the Alaskan Legislature.  Heading into security after time with the line of passengers, I felt upbeat.  I’d blocked out the horror of three months earlier, but after the pleasant TSA agent checked the ticket and ID, I suddenly found myself directed into scanning by the Seattle Airport’s full-body imaging scan.  The horror began again.  A female agent placed herself blocking my passage.  Scan results would again display that my breast cancer and the resulting scars pointed a TSA finger of irregularity at my chest.  I would require invasive, probing hands of a stranger over my body.

Memories of violation would consume my thoughts again.”

“Being a public servant and elected representative momentarily disappeared.

Facing the agent I began to remember what my husband and I’d decided after the previous intensive physical search.  That I never had to submit to that horror again!  It would be difficult, we agreed, but I had the choice to say no, this twisted policy did not have to be the price of flying to Juneau!”

“So last night, as more and more TSA, airline, airport and police gathered, I became stronger in remembering to fight the submission to a physical hand exam.

I repeatedly said that I would not allow the feeling-up and I would not use the transportation mode that required it.”

“For nearly fifty years I’ve fought for the rights of assault victims, population in which my wonderful Alaska sadly ranks number one, both for men and women who have been abused.  The very last thing an assault victim or molested person can deal with is yet more trauma and the groping of strangers, the hands of government ‘safety’ policy.”

“For these people, as well as myself, I refused to submit.”

Wednesday, the Alaska House of Representatives took a “Sense of  the House” vote in support of Rep. Cissna in a resolution:

“that efficient travel is a cornerstone of our economy and our quality of life especially here in Alaska, and that no one should have to sacrifice their dignity in order to travel.”

The House voted 36-2 to adopt that sentiment. Reps. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, and Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, voted “no.” Cissna and Rep. Anna Fairclough, another Eagle River Republican, were absent.

Representatives Lynn and Sadler are the legislature’s most ardent supporters of the most intrusive and ridiculous aspects of our mismanaged, stupid “war on terror.”   Lynn denounced me in a 2004 joint session of the legislature as an enemy of the State.   Read the rest of this entry →