Sitka Dam Expansion

Concrete forms cover the most recently poured sections of the Blue Lake Dam expansion in Sitka, Alaska, Dec. 31, 2013. The $150 million project to raise the dam height 83 feet to increase power capacity is progressing ahead of schedule, according to Sitka's electric utility director. With recent heavy rains the lake level is to the height of the spillway. 

Alaska’s delegation in Congress is awash in renewable energy legislation, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young advancing hydropower, and Sen. Dan Sullivan objecting to clean energy products sourced in China.

A landmark infrastructure bill Sen. Lisa Murkowski helped lead to passage in the Senate will address critical needs for clean water and internet connections in Native communities in Alaska.

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

Infrastructure bill meets needs in Native villages

A massive infrastructure bill the Senate passed includes more than $11 billion for the nation’s tribes, including Alaska Native communities, which Tanana Chiefs Conference described as important to meet basic needs in villages. Here is a look at the measures:

• $3.5 billion for Indian Health Service for clean water, wastewater and solid waste systems.

• $3 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation Tribal Transportation Program.

• $2.5 billion for approved Indian water settlements that enable tribes to develop projects for tapping water resources.

• $216 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Climate Resilience Program, including relocation for tribes displaced by the environmental impacts of climate change.

• $2 billion to expand broadband access for tribal communities.

• $150 million for a new grant program to help tribes clean up orphan wells.

“Through the infrastructure bill, Congress has recognized the significant infrastructure needs in villages across Alaska,” said PJ Simon, chief and chairman of Tanana Chiefs Conference. “The funding that’s necessary to provide basic needs like safe roads, potable water and sanitation, and access to broadband, has been withheld by Congress until now.

“Tanana Chiefs Conference appreciates these needs being recognized and seeks to ensure that infrastructure projects are implemented safely in the future with limited impacts to our hunting and fishing resources, cultural properties and water resources,” Simon said.

In Alaska’s Interior, Simon said that “13 of our rural communities live in third world conditions.” He noted that a lack of clean water and sewer systems is linked to illness and a lower quality of life.

“In addition, the state, rural and tribal communities don’t have high-speed internet access,” Simon said. “Tanana Chiefs Conference looks forward to this funding investment as we work together toward our vision of healthy, strong, unified Tribes.”

Hydropower energizes Alaska support

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young introduced legislation to invest in hydropower infrastructure by upgrading existing dams or replacing diesel power plants that generate electricity in some rural Alaska communities.

The Maintaining Hydroelectric and River Restoration Act has the potential to fund improvements to 90,000 dams across America in need of repair or removal. The legislation also would provide a 30% tax credit for investments that span dam safety, fish passage ways, grid resiliency and/or the removal of deteriorating dams.

The bill is supported by the National Hydropower Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Rivers and the Association of State Dam Safety.

Not so fast on Chinese-sourced minerals

Sen. Dan Sullivan is all for renewable energy. He just wants to make sure that the critical minerals are not all sourced from China. His amendment to end federal funds for renewable energy projects that contain Chinese-produced materials won overwhelming support in the U.S. Senate.

“If we are going to build out our domestic renewable energy industry, we need to have an honest conversation about where we are sourcing these materials,” Sullivan said.

“We cannot continue to be dependent on China for critical minerals — resources that are crucial to our economy and national security, and which we have in abundance in the U.S., particularly in Alaska,” Sullivan said.

For example, solar projects using materials from China could not benefit from federal tax breaks, under Sullivan’s provision. China controls 80% of the world’s polysilicon, used to make crystalline silicon solar panels, the most common type of solar panel.

Sullivan has been pushing the Biden administration to invest in and incentivize a U.S. supply chain for critical minerals, which the senator says will create jobs, enhance national security and help the U.S. economy.

Vaccine mandate takes flight

Alaska Airlines has joined a growing list of private companies ordering employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Alaska Airlines informed its 20,000 employees that the company may impose a Covid-19 vaccine mandate. The highly contagious Delta variant is giving new impetus for businesses that interact with the public to consider a shot requirement. Airlines to require the vaccine for staff are United, Frontier and Hawaiian, with others expected to follow.

Alaska Airlines plans to wait for full regulatory approval of the Covid-19 vaccine before implementing a mandate. Pfizer-BioNTech is expected to be the first manufacturer to receive authority, which is pending. Currently Covid-19 vaccines are distributed to Americans through a special provision for emergency use.

Shots ahoy for the U.S. Coast Guard

A vaccine mandate has been ordered by the U.S. military, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announcing that all American troops, which number 1.4 million, will need the coronavirus shot to maintain America’s defense readiness.

Now the Coast Guard and National Guard will require enlisted members to have the coronavirus vaccine. The decision means that a half-million unvaccinated service members from the two branches must have the shots.

About 25% of active duty military personnel in the Coast Guard are not vaccinated. The unvaccinated rate in the National Guard is about 35%.

While the vaccine mandate for American troops will not go into effect until mid-September, the Pentagon is prepared to move up the date if coronavirus infections spike or an FDA-approved vaccine comes on the market sooner.

 

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 907-459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.