It’s another week in politics, Alaska style.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan accused the DOE secretary of condescending to fossil fuels. Attorney General Treg Taylor called out Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. And U.S. Rep. Don Young turned to Homeland Security over a different kind of border dispute.
Alaska’s two senators also ferried federal cruise legislation to unanimous passage.
Will Alaska cruise bill arrive on time?
Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Alaska Tourism Recovery Act passed the U.S. Senate by unanimous vote, putting the state on a path to resume its cruise ship season.
Cruise Lines International Association congratulated Murkowski and Sullivan, the bill’s co-sponsor, on Twitter: “Our members hope to return this summer and to help put Alaskan communities back to work.”
If the House adopts Young’s companion bill, the legislation would enable Alaska to temporarily forgo an 1800s law that has dry-docked Alaska cruises.
The Passenger Vessel Services Act requires foreign-flagged cruise ships bound for Alaska to port in Canada in between U.S. stops.
Canada has banned U.S. cruise traffic since the Covid-19 outbreak, and the large commercial vessels that service the U.S. are registered in foreign countries.
Murkowski said after the unanimous vote that “the health and restoration of our economy cannot be held up by Canada, especially since Alaska has led with vaccinations.”
Princess and Holland America have canceled cruises through June, which means that Alaska would not have a cruise tourism season until at least July.
Alaska’s small businesses rely on summer cruise visitors, with the industry accounting for $3 billion in revenues.
Homeland Security to the rescue
Rep. Young appealed to the Homeland Security Secretary to use his authority for the state’s summer cruise season to launch. The 11th hour strategy may have a chance.
“These workers and the businesses that employ them are currently facing economic ruin following Canada’s decision to close its ports,” Young said in a letter to DHS.
Young asked Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to waive a provision under the Passenger Vessels Services Act (PVSA) to allow U.S. cruise ships bound for Alaska to make stops in Canada but require passengers to stay on board.
Young noted that DHS has a history of providing exemptions to the PVSA during emergencies.
“In times of national emergency, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, there is precedent for the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant exceptions to the PVSA. For example, during the swine flu in 2009, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) informally agreed that cruise ships did not need to make a port call in Mexico if they believed it was unsafe.”
Sullivan calls energy secretary condescending
Sen. Sullivan is warning that short-term disruptions at the pump will become a long-term reality under Biden’s energy policy, which focuses on moving the nation to electric vehicles.
He urged the Biden administration to loosen restrictions on Alaska oil and gas production “for the benefit of our own citizens.”
“Pipelines are good,” he said. “We need them, as this Colonial Pipeline shutdown certainly demonstrates.’’
Sullivan accused Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm of a cavalier and condescending attitude toward fossil fuels.
Granholm told reporters: “If you drive an electric car, this would not be affecting you, clearly,” after the Colonial Pipeline shutdown, Sullivan said.
Sullivan spoke on the Senate floor, after a briefing with the Departments of Energy, Transportation and Homeland Security about the Colonial cyber attack.
The Institute for Energy Research of Washington, D.C., echoed Sullivan’s assertion in its “Plugged In” newsletter, stating that “eliminating a pipeline via a cyber attack made its benefits ever so clear.”
Alaska minerals could rock EV market
The global EV market is so lucrative that analysts have described the rare earth minerals used in car batteries as the new oil.
A $1.5 million Department of Energy grant to the University of Alaska Fairbanks will help facilitate the development of the rare earth mining industry.
The DOE grant is for UAF to establish Alaska as a competitive market for rare earth elements and reduce U.S. reliance on imports.
China controls the global minerals market for the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries and other green technologies.
Plans to establish Alaskan mining of lithium, cobalt and other rare earths could change that.
“The very same fossil fuel communities that have powered our nation for decades can be at the forefront of the clean energy economy by producing the critical minerals needed to build electric vehicles, wind turbines and so much more,” said Energy Secretary Granholm.
An Instagram app for kids?
Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor joined more than 40 attorneys general urging Facebook to end plans to build an Instagram app for kids under 13.
“Children under 13 are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, manipulation, abuse and bullying on social media platforms,” Treg Taylor said.
In a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, AGs from 44 states warned the Facebook CEO that he will put the nation’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens at risk, if he moves forward with the project.
“Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms,” they wrote.
Facebook responded that it will protect the privacy of young users, who currently are prohibited from Instagram, the photo- and video-sharing app Facebook acquired in 2012.
The attorney generals told Zuckerberg that:
• Pre-adolescent children would be at risk of becoming victims of online predators who can disguise their identities.
• Children lack the maturity to manage their own online account.
• Young users cannot fully understand the consequences of posting personal information.
Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.