5 Things to Know in Alaska Politics: Oil drilling, critical minerals and energy defense | Local News | #alaska | #politics

Red Dog, a remote Alaska mine, is America’s largest producer of zinc. Could it also be a major player for a mineral critical to digital technology?

The Alaska Industrial Development & Energy Authority is asking the attorney general for an opinion on its resolution to limit investments with big banks that oppose Arctic oil.

And Tanana Chiefs Conference is part of a consortium of 118 tribes seeking to partner with the federal government to help protect the Alaska ecosystem from climate change.

There’s more news in “Five Things to Know.”

Alaska is enriched with the metals needed for electric vehicles, renewable energy and high-tech devices, but Alaska lags behind other mining states when it comes to producing the minerals.

Shane Lasley, publisher of Metal Tech News, offered his assessment of Alaska mining, as demand builds globally for the minerals used in smart and green technologies.

Alaska’s remote environment creates challenges for mining developers, Lasley said.

Alaska is not as productive as other mining states because of “the cost of establishing mines due to the lack of transportation and energy infrastructure,” Lasley told the News-Miner.

Lasley said that he is not aware of any mining activities in Interior Alaska for the minerals needed in clean energy and digital technologies.

“Further afield, the Graphite Creek deposit near Nome could provide a very significant source of the graphite needed in lithium-ion batteries,” Lasley said.

Red Dog Mine has germanium, a zinc by-product used to make fiber optic cables, computer chips and solar cells.

“The Red Dog mine produces germanium that is used in fiber optic cable, quantum computing transistors and solar panels,” Lasley said.

Red Dog already is the largest zinc source in the U.S. and the second-largest zinc producer on the planet.

Alaska’s oil and gas future

The Alaska Industry Energy & Development Authority (AIDEA) has asked the Alaska attorney general to review a resolution that calls for restricting investments with banking companies that won’t invest in oil and gas in the Alaska Arctic.

The AIDEA board decided this week to seek the legal opinion of Attorney General Treg Taylor on the resolution, which is expected to come before the board for a vote.

The resolution would restrict investments with JP Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America and other major financial companies.

The resolution states that some public investment companies have policies that hurt the Alaska economy in the Arctic.

Environmental groups including the Northern Alaska Environmental Center have organized high-profile campaigns against Arctic oil and gas drilling.

The Northern Alaska Environmental Center states that its goal is to advance “preservation of the natural wilderness of the refuge and of the indigenous peoples who have traditionally occupied the land.”

But Marcus Frampton, chief investment officer of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., told the Alaska House Finance Committee that the position by banks against Arctic drilling most likely comes “from the PR department than from the actual business people.”

“Almost every major U.S. bank has stated they would not finance Arctic big oil and gas,” Frampton said. “I would be pretty handicapped if you could not trade through those brokers. I am skeptical about the positions on the Arctic policies.”

The Dunleavy administration has hired a Colorado law firm to challenge President Biden’s halt on oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as a new environmental study is done on the impact of drilling in the preserve.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) has seven leases for oil exploration along the coastal plain of the national preserve, and the agency has filed a lawsuit to overturn the moratorium. The state of Alaska recently filed a motion to join the lawsuit.

According to a contract between the state of Alaska and Davis Graham & Stubbs, the Colorado law firm, attorneys will serve as co-counsel and work on behalf of “state’s rights litigation” on land use.

The contract states that “at the specific direction of the Attorney General’s Office, the contract, Davis Graham & Stubbs shall represent the state of Alaska in both existing and potential litigation concerning protecting and defending the state’s rights in and the revenue that comes from management and development of natural resources in the state of Alaska.”

The law firm’s first priority will be to join the state’s challenge against the Bureau of Land Management over the Biden administration’s temporary ban on gas and oil permits for leases held in the refuge.

The contract states that four attorneys will provide a “discounted hourly rate” of $540 to $608 per hour. State expenses are limited to $250,000, and funding will come from a budget for statehood defense that the Legislature has granted the Dunleavy administration.

According to the Alaska Department of Law, the governor’s budget seeks an additional $4 million in fiscal 2023 for litigation to “strengthen the state’s response to these federal encroachments.”

Preserving Alaska ecosystems

Tanana Chiefs Conference has joined with Indigenous organizations in western and Interior Alaska to urge the Departments of Interior and Commerce to partner with tribes to manage and conserve Alaska’s ecosystems.

The 118 tribes that make up the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribal Consortium are seeking to partner with the federal government to understand declines in salmon and work to reverse the trend.

“The 2021 Yukon River salmon returns were the worst on record – significantly impacting the ability of Yukon River tribes and fishing families to provide for our people,” said Brian Ridley, president of Tanana Chiefs Conference.

“Tribes and families along the Yukon were unable to meet the amount necessary for subsistence, creating a food security disaster for the region, which was compounded by the continued global pandemic,” Ridley said.

Tribal leaders say they have noticed a change in the abundance of other species they depend on for food and sustenance. The tribes say they are worried about a potential ecosystem collapse caused by climate change.

The Arctic has been warming three times faster in the last 50 years than the rest of the planet, according to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.

The tribal consortium is asking the federal government to prioritize Alaska tribal participation in ecosystem conservation and to designate Indigenous-protected conservation areas.

“The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribal Consortium will provide tribes a unified voice in advocating for our way of life. We become stronger when we work together,” Ridley said.

Rodell investigation intensifies

Lawmakers looking into the firing of Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. director Angela Rodell have agreed to hire an Alaska law firm to investigate the dismissal.

The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee voted unanimously this week to spend up to $100,000 to retain Schwabb, Williamson and Wyatt to handle the investigation, which will examine the allegations by Rodell that her firing was politically motivated because she opposed overdrawing the investment fund.

The $80 billion Alaska Permanent Fund pays for 70% of state services and delivers an annual dividend to Alaskans.

Sen. Natasha von Imhof, who chairs the committee, also will be granted subpoena power to compel witnesses to come forward and testify. The subpoenas would be used to obtain documents or in instances where people decline to testify before the committee.

In an interview with the News-Miner, Rodell said she is willing to talk with legislators. “If lawmakers would find it helpful and I can provide some factual context for how to move forward, I would,” Rodell said.

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