Alaska sues over a federal vaccine mandate. Sen. Dan Sullivan raises concerns about China’s activities near Taiwan. And ConocoPhillips sees “undrilled” opportunities on the North Slope.
There’s more news in “5 Things to Know.”
Is vaccine mandate unconstitutional?
Alaska has joined nine states in a lawsuit that challenges the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors.
The mandate ties federal contracts to a new government order for vaccinations. Contractors must be in full compliance by December.
Calling the requirement “unAmerican,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy vowed to fight the requirement in court.
Under the terms of the mandate, a private company’s employees would need to be in full compliance before federal contracts are awarded, extended or renewed.
The court filing maintains that “the contractor rule is ambiguous and inconsistent with other regulations and existing laws,” according to the Dunleavy administration.
The lawsuit asserts that the requirement is unconstitutional and argues that it exceeds the authority delegated to the federal government.
Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor called the requirement “overreaching and inconsistently applied.”
“This order improperly tries to use the force of law to punish federal contractors for decisions that should be left to them and their employees,” he said in a prepared statement.
The Dunleavy administration maintains that there is uncertainty whether companies may be “blackballed” from future contracts if they refuse the order.
In addition to Alaska, other states that have joined the lawsuit are: Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Filling the trans-Alaska pipeline
U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have introduced legislation for revenue sharing from energy production in Alaska’s outer continental shelf.
Sullivan said that development and production of reserves in the outer continental shelf offer an opportunity for Alaska to “create new jobs and fill the Trans Alaska Pipeline.”
Murkowski said that “providing revenue sharing from the development of Arctic resources to surrounding coastal communities makes sense and is the right thing to do.”
There are an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil and 131 trillion cubic feet of natural gas beyond what is described as near-shore areas.
Alaska does not receive any revenue now from the development of those resources, under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The Alaska Offshore Parity Act would change that.
The legislation creates a framework to mitigate environmental impact, protect coastal communities and support projects.
“Alaskans hold ourselves to the highest standards when it comes to responsibly developing our natural resources with minimal impact on coastal communities,” Murkowski said.
‘Undrilled’ opportunities on the North Slope
The Journal of Petroleum Technology is estimating that significant oil exploration and development opportunities remain “undrilled” on the North Slope.
ConocoPhillips Vice President Nick Olds said that the company eventually expects to develop the Willow project, located in the National Petroleum Reserve.
Olds has called the Willow project “Alaska’s next great hub.” But he said the company has paused plans until “legal risks are mitigated.”
The U.S. District Court of Alaska halted the Willow project in August, invalidating its environmental assessment.
The Justice Department and ConocoPhillips recently had a deadline to appeal Alaska District Court Judge Sharon Gleason’s decision to invalidate federal approval of Willow’s environmental impact statement. But they did not take action.
U.S. hypersonic test sputters after China’s near-Sputnik moment
An Alaska military test for hypersonic technology failed this week at launch, according to Defense News.
The test took place at the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak. The booster system malfunctioned, according to defense officials.
“Delivering hypersonic weapons remains a top priority and the department remains confident that it is on track to field offensive hypersonic capabilities beginning in the early 2020s,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Gorman.
Hypersonic missiles are considered an essential component of future military strategies.
U.S. military leaders, testifying before Congress this week, said that China’s recent testing of a hypersonic missile was close to a “Sputnik” moment for the U.S.
China conducted two hypersonic tests this summer. “I don’t know if it’s quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that,” General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.
Milley referred to the launch of a Soviet satellite in 1957 that stoked fears that the United States was losing to the Soviet Union in the space race.
Anti-missile technology can intercept warheads in outer space. But hypersonic weapons do not move on a predictable path. Hypersonic missiles travel at more than five times the speed of sound.
The Pentagon aims to deploy medium-range hypersonic weapons by around 2025, Nikkei Asia reported.
David Ochmanek, a senior researcher at the RAND Corp., told Nikkei Asia that China may see the weapons as "effective in the event of an attempted Chinese landing operation in Taiwan, where speed would be of the essence."
Warning over China aggression toward Taiwan
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is calling on western democracies to support Taiwan’s independence.
Speaking at the International Republican Institute this week, Sullivan warned that Taiwan is being threatened by “an authoritarian government of immense power, ambition and appetite,” Voice of America reported.
He described Taiwan as the frontline between “freedom and tyranny.”
China has been flying fighter jets near Taiwan with increasing frequency.
In June, Sullivan was part of a congressional delegation that visited Taiwan. He said China’s activities point to “a very challenging and critical time for Taiwan’s democracy.”
Tony Abbott, the former Australian prime minister, delivered a similar message this week at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
China could escalate its aggression toward Taiwan, and western nations should be prepared to respond with military and economic support, Abbott said.