UA Statewide Briefs

Beluga’s get another chance

When the federal government placed the beluga whale on the endangered species list last week, it spurred criticism from both sides of the aisle.

“This endangered listing could result in hugely expensive new requirements to Anchorage’s wastewater treatment, which the EPA has long determined do not affect belugas,” Mark Begich, Anchorage mayor, said in a written statement. “And it could endanger the ongoing expansion of the Port of Anchorage, a vital lifeline for 80 percent of Alaskans and for our military.”

According to NOAA, scientists found that the beluga population in Cook Inlet was only estimated to be 375, a number that has not increased since last year. In 1995, the beluga population was estimated to be 653.

“Such a small number, 1 percent – perhaps less – of the world’s belugas have historically ever lived in the waters surrounding Cook Inlet,” Senator Ted Stevens said in a written statement. “And this is a deliberate targeting of an area vital to the Alaskan economy to protect a species that is increasing in population.”

Freedom of Information Act comes with a hefty price in Alaska

In the state of Alaska, for requests of state documentation under 200 pages, the fee is usually waived. Agencies also offer news organizations the opportunity to fine-tune their requests to avoid high fees.

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Ever since Gov. Sarah Palin was chosen as Sen. John McCain’s running mate, Alaska officials said they have been swamped with requests for copies of state records.

In response, the state is now charging $960.31 per account to search through e-mails of state employees, which the state said would take 13 hours per e-mail account. Officials say the charges reflect their actual costs of paying state technology workers $74 per hour.

Many news organizations around the country have requested copies of e-mails between state employees and the governor’s husband, Todd Palin. Under Alaska’s new price tag, if all 16,000 state employees e-mail accounts are searched, it will cost more than $15 million.

Russian oil meets with AK officials

Last week, eight Russian officials from state-controlled oil conglomerate, Gazprom, met with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the chief executive of ConocoPhillips to discuss energy projects and market expansion.

According to Gov. Sarah Palin’s campaign headquarters, Palin was unaware of the visit by high-level Russian oil officials.

This comes at a time when Russian-American relations are becoming increasingly strained.

Palin spokesperson, Tracy Schmitt told CNN, “Alaska has been, and will remain, very selective about companies with whom they do business.”

Palin praises God for oil

Last week Gov. Sarah Palin told a crowd of supporters in North Connecticut that God blessed the nation with oil and gas. She said the U.S. needed to stop relying on foreign imports and tap more into what is already available within the country’s borders

“God has so richly blessed this land, not just with the oil and the gas, but with wind and the hydro, the geothermal and the biomass,” Palin said. “We’ll tap into those.”

Bloggers have flooded the Internet with a variety of positive and negative comments in response to Palin’s religious statements.

“Talk about an ‘elitist’ statement. What about other countries and other religions? Are they less blessed than the United States?” wrote blogger9 from Denver, CO.

“Wow, you lefties just never learn to stop flapping your mouths about subjects that you have no understanding of,” wrote blogger glcombrink from Wells, NV. “Oil has nothing to do with dinosaurs…”