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Gas line deal with China signals diminished expectations

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 13:44

On one day, Nov. 9, $250 billion in nonbinding deals between the U.S. and China appeared during the president's trade mission. This included the agreement for China to "work together" with the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. on North Slope natural gas, as well as arrangements for shale gas in West Virginia and two other LNG projects in the Gulf of Mexico.

China has many other similar deals with other jurisdictions. Some may be built. Many will not.

Notwithstanding that the intrinsic economic fundamentals (the cost, the competition, the market) for the Alaska project are challenging, should it happen, under the proposed structure the state will likely not make much money from it.

[Alaska gas line agency reaches deal with Chinese oil company, financial institutions]

With the state running a large deficit, and dependent on Permanent Fund earnings for state services and dividends, it will have no money to invest in the project. Thus it is doubtful it can earn any return on equity.

And there is no money to be made by borrowing money to put into the project. That is debt, and the return on debt is simply recovery of interest payments to creditors. (It is also unclear if the state has the assets to even engage in such a loan.)

It is unlikely there will be much upside price potential for the project. The state will be bankrolled by the customer, who will want the lowest possible price, and the Asian market is oversupplied. There will not be money to be made by buying gas low and selling it high.

That leaves production taxes and royalties as the primary sources of revenue. The lease terms give the producers the right to produce the gas and commercialize it under reasonable terms, for which they pay taxes and royalties. These will be based on the wellhead value.

Some third party will enter into a long-term buying commitment with the producers, who will presumably sell gas to them at the North Slope wellhead. Since the producers are passing on the cost and market risks downstream, they may accept a lower purchase price. This will suppress taxes and royalties.

[Here are 5 big questions about Alaska's gas line deal with China?]

What might be a commercially reasonable price? The economics are so thin on the project that AGDC needs a low purchase price to make it work. They have offered $1 per thousand cubic feet.

The irony here, to say the least, is interesting. A state agency has a vested interest in lowballing the value of the state's resources. And the producers may be vilified for wanting a high value. The misalignment of interests is palpable.

Suppose it is $1 per thousand cubic feet. At 3 billion cubic feet per year, that would be about $1 billion per year in value at the wellhead.

The current combined tax/royalty rate is 25 percent. That will result in a lackluster $250 million in annual state revenues. That would close about one-tenth of the current budget deficit. The promotional material for the project does not even mention revenues anymore. Obviously, the jobs and possibility of lower-priced gas would be good, but the big prize in resource development comes from the resource value.

It is unlikely the producers would sell gas to someone and then risk having a large chunk of value taxed away should the state increase production taxes. Thus it will also be commercially reasonable for them to pass on the taxes to the buyers in the purchase contract. This is exactly what Cook Inlet gas producers have always done.

These taxes would be part of the purchase price from the producers, and will need to be recovered from the ultimate consumers. Thus the higher the tax the less competitive the selling price.

This may be the best deal the state can do now. Maybe it's the best the state can ever do, in which case AGDC should be lauded. But it is not clear it's in the state's long-run best interests.

The Asian LNG market is now a buyer's market, and prices are low. Marketing to other places in Asia besides China will be no different.

Long-term prices are, of course, unknowable. Locking in under the current environment will guarantee a generation of low value for the resource.

However, if the Asian or North American markets recover, the state might regret hitching up to the first suitor to come along.

Over the past 15 years, between the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority, the Stranded Gas Development Act, the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, the Alaska Stand-Alone Project, the partnership with the producers, and AGDC, the state has spent $1 billion, with not too much to show for it. Given the economic fundamentals, all of these endeavors were low probability going in. But all were gambles that a gas line would eventually provide rich returns for the state.

AGDC's additional gamble now is that the best-case scenario is a rationed future of limited returns.

Roger Marks is a petroleum economist in private practice in Anchorage, specializing in petroleum economics and taxation. He is a former senior petroleum economist with the Tax Division of the Alaska Department of Revenue.

Body of overdue Kotzebue man found 6 miles north of town

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 13:34

The body of a Kotzebue man missing since Friday was found Tuesday afternoon near the Northwest Alaska hub community, Alaska State Troopers said.

Jared Walker, 32, was reported overdue at 11:20 p.m. Friday. He was traveling that day from a cabin near the mouth of the Noatak River, 10 miles north of Kotzebue, and was expected to reach town at 2:20 p.m. But he didn't show, troopers said.

A search team checked the cabin. He wasn't there. Surrounding villages were asked to check for him too. The search went on for days.

A family member helping search found him at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday near Jones Camp, about 6 miles north of Kotzebue.

Troopers didn't have immediate information on how he died or whether he was on foot, snowmachine or some other mode of transportation. The State Medical Examiner Office plans an autopsy.

Alaska's Sweetheart Lake project receives Forest Service approval - HydroWorld

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2017-12-06 12:50

HydroWorld

Alaska's Sweetheart Lake project receives Forest Service approval
HydroWorld
Construction of Alaska's proposed Sweetheart Dam and an accompanying 19.8-MW hydroelectric plant could begin as soon as next summer after the U.S. Forest Service approved a special land-use agreement for the project. The facility is being developed by ...

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Coast Guard identifies missing boaters - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2017-12-06 12:50

Juneau Empire

Coast Guard identifies missing boaters
Juneau Empire
The Coast Guard has deployed a Coast Guard Air Station Sitka helicopter crew, a smallboat crew from the Coast Guard Cutter John McCormick and a Coast Guard Station Juneau smallboat crew to search for the missing boaters. The Juneau Harbor Department ...
UPDATE: Coast Guard identifies two men missing after their boat capsizedKTUU.com
Searchers seek 2 men missing from capsized boat in JuneauSeattle Times

all 6 news articles »

Father of Anchorage 5-year-old who died of self-inflicted gunshot wound faces federal charge

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 11:43

The father of a 5-year-old Anchorage boy who died Tuesday from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head is a felon and wasn't supposed to have a gun, according to federal prosecutors.

He now faces a federal weapons charge, according to federal prosecutors.

Anthony L. Johnnson has a felony record for drug possession, according to a sworn statement filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

His son, Christian, took a handgun from a bedroom nightstand, then shot and killed himself, according to Anchorage police. The new charges describe the gun as a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol.

Johnnson is charged with violating a federal prohibition against felons having guns. He was scheduled to appear Wednesday afternoon in federal court.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Searchers seek 2 men missing from capsized boat in Juneau - Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2017-12-06 11:39

Juneau Empire

Searchers seek 2 men missing from capsized boat in Juneau
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A boat capsized in Juneau's Gastineau Channel and the Coast Guard is searching for two missing men. Juneau police at about 9 p.m. Tuesday received a call from a witness reporting screaming from near the breakwater at Aurora ...
Update: Search suspended for 2 men who remain unaccounted for in Gastineau ChannelKTOO
Coast Guard identifies missing boatersJuneau Empire
Two still missing, three survive after boat capsizes near Juneauyouralaskalink

all 7 news articles »

Breaking: Speaker Edgmon breaks silence on harassment - Must Read Alaska (blog)

Legislative News - Wed, 2017-12-06 11:18

Breaking: Speaker Edgmon breaks silence on harassment
Must Read Alaska (blog)
Six members of the Alaska House of Representatives and the Alaska State Senate have been appointed to a special subcommittee that will review the legislature's harassment policies and make recommendations to the joint Alaska Legislative Council before ...

After a near-miss, the safety of Alaska-bound fuel barges is under scrutiny

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 11:04

A near-miss involving a Skagway-bound tug and tanker barge hauling millions of gallons of fuel through the Inside Passage has reignited debate in Canada over shipping petroleum through its territory.

It was big news the next day in western Canada. The incident near Bella Bella, British Columbia, in Canada's portion of the Inside Passage, was just a few miles from the site of a similar incident last year.

In October 2016, the Nathan E. Stewart tug had just unloaded its fuel cargo in Ketchikan.

Its distress calls to the Canadian Coast Guard were obtained and published by Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.

About 29,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled. A nearby clam fishery used by the Heiltsuk First Nations tribe remains shut down 13 months later.

Canadian authorities had been criticized over a delayed response and slow cleanup efforts.

When last Sunday's close call involved the tug Jake Shearer and a 430-foot barge loaded with fuel, there was renewed outcry and concern.

Harley Marine Services, the parent company of the tug operator, isn't commenting, citing the open investigation by Transport Canada.

But in Bella Bella, a community of 1,600, people have been listening intently to chatter on the VHF radio and talking to crew members and Coast Guard officials.

"The actual tug and barge was hit by a rogue wave, causing one of the pegs that holds the tug to the barge to break and that led the crew to release themselves completely from the barge because it was putting the tug in danger," said William Housty, the Heiltsuk First Nations' incident commander in Bella Bella.

Two crew members were reportedly able to jump from the tug to the loose barge to drop its anchor.

Otherwise it could've run aground or broken up on a rock pile he said he could see from the air just meters away.

"We've had these two incidents in the last year; it's really kind of magnified these sort of tugs and put into question whether these tugs are actually capable of handling the seas in this part of the world," Housty said.

In the wake of the wreck last year, restrictions on barge traffic had recently been tightened by Canadian authorities.

The tug Jake Shearer and its barge were apparently heeding new navigation rules on transiting fuel vessels that required them to avoid certain narrow straits in the area.

"The American tug and barge industry have been going up and down this coast for over a century," said Kevin Obermeyer, chief executive officer of the Pacific Pilotage Association which regulates marine navigation on Canada's west coast.

The association routinely issues waivers to the fuel companies so their vessels aren't required to have a Canadian pilot on board as is required of other heavy vessels.

Since the Exxon Valdez spill, the U.S. requires vessels carrying petroleum cargo to have an approved contingency plan for spills and fires. Canada doesn't.

"The oversight that we do is make sure that the officers and the crew on those vessels have been going through these waters sufficiently to have the experience and knowledge to do it safely," Obermeyer said.

But critics say that might not be enough.

The Canadian government has proposed banning full-sized tankers in the Inside Passage even though they don't use that route.

Tugs and barges hauling fuel — like the Jake Shearer and Nathan E. Stewart — would remain exempt.

"We're banning something that doesn't occur, but we have all this marine traffic passing through our Canadian waters and Canadians are saying, 'Look, we're taking all this risk but we're getting no benefit,'" said Joe Spears, a retired maritime law attorney who runs an oceans consultancy in Vancouver. "This is pretty much a live issue and it affects Alaska and I think we need to sit down and talk about this because of all of Southeast Alaska depends on these tugs and barges to get the refined petroleum product."

There's no tracking how much fuel is shipped north to Southeast Alaska.

One industry estimate offers an estimated 50 million gallons annually.

But there's no hard data kept by the U.S. or Canadian authorities.

Fuel retailers in Southeast Alaska say the loss of fuel deliveries by barge would be unthinkable.

"Depending on how cold it is, we can haul up to 400,000 gallons of heating fuel in a month or more," said Phil Isaac of Ike's Fuel in Douglas. His family has owned the company that trucks heating fuel around the capital city for more than a half-century. "There's just no way we could haul that in. The barges can bring up a million gallons at a time. There's no way to replace that."

People in Bella Bella understand that — they get their fuel delivered the same way.

"There's people along the coast that live here and depend on the resources in this area for survival," said William Housty in Bella Bella. "To put all that at stake for the movement of fossil fuels is very difficult for people to fathom."

Four days after the incident, Canadian authorities admitted they'd grossly under-stated the amount of fuel carried in the barge.

The vessel was carrying about 3.7 million gallons of diesel and gas – more than three times what had previously been disclosed.

The confusion, the agency said, came from mistaking liters for gallons.

This article was republished with permission from KTOO Public Media.

Scrooge ascendant: Health care for kids goes begging

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 10:57

You'd think funding a program providing medical care to low-income children would be a no-brainer. Apparently not true in today's poisonous political climate. In today's political climate, even immunizations for poor children become a football to be booted and kicked around until it's flatter than the balls used in Deflategate. Not to worry, though. The rich and their riches are safe.

Our government is supposed to be by the people, of the people and for the people. Yet it seems as if more and more we are defining "people" as corporations and individuals with millions of dollars in their checking accounts. The rest of us apparently don't get representation. We are finding out just what life is like when our "representative" government no longer even pretends to represent the poor and middle class.

[Murkowski joins Sullivan in supporting GOP tax plan]

I expected that Dan Sullivan would go along with paying his moneyed overlords for their support by voting for a bill that gives tax breaks to people who have to worry about where to park their private jets. But I thought we'd get better from Lisa Murkowski – a lot better. For a brief moment this fall, Lisa looked like the person I thought I'd voted for when she stood up to her party on health care reform. Then they threw ANWR at her and suddenly she voted to destroy the Affordable Care Act in order to give her big donors the Christmas present they requested.

The possibility of opening ANWR was waved under her nose to get her vote. Subsequently, we find ourselves planning to open an unspoiled wilderness to exploitation of non-renewable resources while the rest of the world moves to renewables. In fact, China is leading the world in this respect. While we sit and wallow in our dirty energy, China and the rest of the world move toward clean energy.

Given the amount of money that China is pouring into this effort, I'd guess that within a generation oil will be out and renewables will be in. At that point, our despoiling of this wilderness will seem to be as shortsighted as many of us already think it is. On top of that, we will be propping up a dying industry instead of working to free Alaska from this dependence by diversifying our economy. For instance, maybe we could foster our own alternative energy industry.

[Health care for kids is a matter of faith]

But back to those kids, the ones we can't afford to provide even the most basic of health services to because of the huge budget deficit we are facing. At least, that's what the Republicans in Congress are saying. It's interesting that they are simultaneously OK with the trillion-dollar deficit every credible financial institution states their tax plan overhaul will create. For me, this forever ends any pretense Republicans have to being the party of fiscal responsibility. Apparently, the only time they have trouble with the deficit is when it is paying for services to middle- and lower-class Americans. A trillion-dollar deficit to appease their overlords is perfectly acceptable.

But that doesn't matter to them. What matters is that their major donors will now be able to park their jets and deduct some of the costs from their taxes. What matters is that money for their re-election campaigns will continue to flow. What matters is that they have government health care coverage so their children will always have immediate access to needed immunizations.

And can we please dump the myth that putting more money in the pockets of the wealthy will result in jobs and economic growth. As someone on Facebook recently and wisely pointed out, jobs are created when the need to hire employees arises. And that need arises only if business is busy with people spending money. And that won't happen when all the tax breaks go to the wealthy, leaving the rest of us with little to no extra cash to spend. As they have done in the past, the rich will pocket the money, invest it overseas to avoid taxes and never spend a cent in America.

Finally, to add insult to injury, the tax breaks for the wealthy continue ad infinitum. The minuscule tax break for the middle class has a very short expiration date.

Children suffer. The middle class disappears. Student loans bury our young people in debt that they will be repaying in retirement. But not to worry, millionaires will no longer have to pay a large estate tax. If that doesn't put you in the spirit of the Christmas season, I don't know what will.

Elise Sereni Patkotak is the author of two memoirs about her life in Alaska, both available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

GCI, Alaska Communications weigh in on net neutrality repeal - Alaskajournal.com

Legislative News - Wed, 2017-12-06 10:45

Alaskajournal.com

GCI, Alaska Communications weigh in on net neutrality repeal
Alaskajournal.com
One was for a legislative report to be completed by the RCA by Dec. 1, inserted in the 2018 budget in late June by Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks. He wanted the RCA to document coverage gaps in Alaska to provide the Legislature with information ...

and more »

Photos: Best of December 2017

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 10:42

Alaska Dispatch News photographers and contributors capture slices of life from the Anchorage area and across Alaska in December 2017.

Five people launched a skiff Tuesday night in Juneau. Now two are missing.

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 10:39

Coast Guard searchers in two small boats and a helicopter were looking in Juneau's Gastineau Channel on Wednesday morning for two men missing after a skiff overturned Tuesday night.

Five people – two women and three men, plus a dog – were in the small jon boat when it took on water and capsized about 9 p.m. They were heading to a vessel anchored near Aurora Harbor, said Vince Grochowski, a civilian Coast Guard search-and-rescue controller based in Juneau.

The women made it to shore and one of the men got on top of the capsized boat, where the Coast Guard found him, Grochowski said

Initially, authorities didn't know so many people were on the boat, he said. The scene unfolded gradually, he said.

The Juneau Police Department got a call Tuesday night from a man at Aurora Harbor who heard screams for help in the direction of the Juneau Yacht Club, Grochowski said. But the man couldn't see anyone.

Police sent out an officer and contacted the Coast Guard. The police officer noticed the man on the capsized boat and believed a second man was in the water. The Coast Guard launched its small boat and picked up the man, who told them a second man had disappeared into the dark, cold water.

"At that time we were under the assumption that it was just two individuals in a small boat that we found that was overturned, with the one person we pulled out," Grochowski said.

But soon they learned from police that two women who made it shore were also part of the group, and that two men – not one – were missing. A dog with the group also was rescued, according to public radio station KTOO.

According to initial reports, no one was wearing a life jacket, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard is continuing to search with its helicopter, a small boat stationed in Juneau and a second small boat from the Coast Guard Cutter John McCormick – a vessel too big for that portion of the channel, Grochowski said. The Coast Guard helicopter flew most of the night looking for any sign of the missing men, stopping to switch out crews and refuel.

SEADOGS – Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search — was looking into whether it could help as well.

By Wednesday morning, winds had picked up and the water might be too rough to send the dogs out.

"We always hold out hope for the best," Grochowski said. "We keep searching until we receive information that tells us otherwise."

The women walked and swam to shore. Maybe the men did the same.

"Maybe they are high and dry somewhere," he said. The tide was coming in, he said, so they could be stranded on a small island or mud flat.

Alaska lawmaker takes fight over conflicts to the voters - The News Tribune

Legislative News - Wed, 2017-12-06 10:31

Alaska lawmaker takes fight over conflicts to the voters
The News Tribune
In addition to his bill, Grenn unsuccessfully pushed a legislative rules change that would have required a vote on whether a member should be excused from voting. It died in the House. If the proposed initiative is successful, he hopes there will be ...

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Juneau physician secures three licenses for cannabis operation - Alaskajournal.com

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2017-12-06 10:31

Juneau physician secures three licenses for cannabis operation
Alaskajournal.com
The application was unique, noted Marijuana Control Board Member Loren Jones, also of Juneau, because it's the first time the board has licensed a practicing physician for multiple marijuana operations. “It's a very unusual situation where he is a ...

Alaska lawmaker takes fight over conflicts to the voters - Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

Legislative News - Wed, 2017-12-06 10:28

Alaska lawmaker takes fight over conflicts to the voters
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
In addition to his bill, Grenn unsuccessfully pushed a legislative rules change that would have required a vote on whether a member should be excused from voting. It died in the House. If the proposed initiative is successful, he hopes there will be ...

and more »

Trump recognizes Jerusalem as capital of Israel in reversal of longtime US policy

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 10:23

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Wednesday formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, defying warnings from other Mideast countries and some U.S. allies in a politically risky move that he insisted would not derail his administration's efforts to broker a peace deal.

In a midday speech at the White House, Trump defended his decision as "long overdue" and argued that a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians has remained elusive for more than two decades even as his predecessors declined to recognize the contested city as Israel's capital.

"Some say they lacked courage, but they made the best judgment based on the facts as they understood them," Trump said, speaking in the Diplomatic Reception Room. "Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades, we're no closer to a lasting peace agreement."

Trump added that "it's folly to assume that repeating the exactly the same formula will produce a different or better result."

The announcement came a day after senior White House aides previewed Trump's decision, and the president also ordered the State Department to begin planning to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a process that administration officials said would take years.

Trump emphasized that despite his decision he remained fully committed to helping broker a peace agreement. The White House is working on a peace plan to be unveiled sometime next year.

"The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides," Trump said. "I intend to do everything in my power to forge such an agreement."

Trump's decision was hailed in Israel. The Jerusalem municipality announced ahead of Trump's speech that it would illuminate the ancient walls of Jerusalem Old City with an Israeli and an American flag, "as a token of appreciation to President Trump for his recognition of Jerusalem." The city said that American flags would be hung on the streets surrounding the U.S. consulate.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said that "the expected announcement by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a historic declaration that sends a clear message to the entire world that the U.S. stands with the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Jerusalem."

"As a gesture and expression of the courageous friendship between the American people and the people of Israel, we decided to project the American and Israeli flags onto the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, the ultimate symbol of the strength of the Jewish people's connection to Jerusalem for over 3,000 years."

Yet other Mideast nations and some U.S. allies condemned the decision ahead of Trump's speech, suggesting the shift in policy would inflame regional tensions and make the process of brokering a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians more difficult.

"We think it's an unwise step and a counterproductive step. If we want to solve at some moment the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, we need a two-state solution, and a one-sided step is not going to help," Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra said Wednesday.

"I don't think we can use another conflict in this very explosive region," Zijlstra said, adding that he had conveyed his concerns to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels, during a NATO meeting.

But Tillerson insisted such concerns were misguided. Attending the meeting in Brussels, Tillerson said: "We continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved." He urged people to listen to Trump's full speech and its context before passing judgment.

"The president is very committed to the Middle East peace process," Tillerson said. "He has a team he put into place. That team has been working very diligently."

White House aides emphasized that Trump's decision would make clear to Mideast countries that the president, who campaigned on promises to move the embassy to Jerusalem, keeps his word. Senior adviser Jared Kushner and other top administration officials are working on a proposed peace plan for the region, but aides said that it is not imminent and the team would have time to factor in public reaction to Trump's speech.

One administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the Palestinians would likely threaten to reject peace talks. But this person said the White House recognized that peace deals often are not linear in how they are negotiated and that often such deals are presumed dead more than once before they reach the finish line.

"Trump remains committed to a lasting peace agreement," said another administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The Washington Post's Rick Noack in Berlin, Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem and Carol Morello in Brussels contributed to this report.

Flynn said Obama sanctions against Russia would be ‘ripped up’ as soon as Trump took office, whistleblower says

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 10:07

WASHINGTON — Michael T. Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, told a former business associate that economic sanctions against Russia would be "ripped up" as one of the Trump administration's first acts, according to an account by a whistleblower made public on Wednesday.

Flynn believed that ending the sanctions could allow a business project he had once participated in to move forward, according to the whistleblower. The account is the strongest evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to end the sanctions immediately, and suggests that Flynn had a possible economic incentive for the United States to forge a closer relationship with Russia.

Flynn had worked on a business venture to partner with Russia to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East until June 2016, but remained close with the people involved afterward. On Inauguration Day, according to the whistleblower, Flynn texted the former business associate to say that the project was "good to go."

The account is detailed in a letter written by Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. In the letter, Cummings said that the whistleblower contacted his office in June and has authorized him to go public with the details. He did not name the whistleblower.

"These grave allegations compel a full, credible and bipartisan congressional investigation," Cummings wrote.

Flynn has been under investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia's attempts to disrupt last year's election, for calls he made last December to Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time. Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI about the nature of his calls, during which the men discussed the sanctions that the Obama administration had just imposed on Russia.

In his letter, Cummings also said that his staff had been in consultations with Mueller's team, which brought the criminal charge against Flynn. Staffers for the special counsel asked Cummings not to make the whistleblower's account public until "they completed certain investigative steps," he wrote.

According to the account detailed in the letter, the whistleblower had a conversation on Inauguration Day with Alex Copson of ACU Strategic Partners, a company that hired Flynn in 2015 as an adviser to develop a plan to work with Russia to build nuclear power plants throughout the Middle East. Flynn served as an adviser until June 2016.

[Emails counter White House claim that Flynn acted alone on Russia contacts]

During the conversation, Copson told the whistleblower that "this is the best day of my life" because it was "the start of something I've been working on for years, and we are good to go." Copson told the whistleblower that Flynn had sent him a text message during Trump's inaugural address, directing him to tell others involved in the nuclear project to continue developing their plans.

"This is going to make a lot of very wealthy people," Copson said.

Attempts to reach Copson Wednesday were unsuccessful. A lawyer for Flynn declined to comment.

The letter went on to say that "Mr. Copson explained that Gen. Flynn was making sure that sanctions would be 'ripped up' as one of his first orders of business and that this would allow money to start flowing into the project."

President Barack Obama first imposed economic sanctions on Russia in 2014, after Russia's military incursions in Crimea and Ukraine, and again last December to punish Russia for its attempts to disrupt the U.S. presidential election.

Earlier this year, various plans to lift the Russia sanctions circulated through the Trump administration, but Trump ultimately decided not to repeal the measures. Flynn lasted just 24 days as national security adviser before he was forced out amid questions about whether he lied to administration officials about the nature of his phone calls with Kislyak.

Cummings sent the letter to the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and asked him to investigate the whistleblower's claims. The whistleblower, Cummings said, is willing to meet with Gowdy if he agrees to protect the person's identity.

"I do not bring this whistleblower to your attention lightly," Cummings said. "I have attempted to advance this investigation without exposing individuals to personal or professional risk. But the exceptionally troubling allegations in this case — combined with ongoing obstruction from the White House and others — have made this step necessary."

Cummings said Gowdy should subpoena the White House and the Flynn Intelligence Group, Flynn's former company, for documents that the House committee had requested in March but had not yet been provided. The subpoena to the White House should be for "all documents — including emails and text messages sent on personal devices" about Flynn's foreign contacts, payments and efforts to promote the proposal. Cummings said that Gowdy should subpoena Flynn, Copson and four others to testify before the panel.

Gowdy and Cummings have a long history of clashing publicly over politically charged investigations. Gowdy was the chairman of the special committee that investigated the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and Cummings was that panel's ranking member. As part of that investigation, Gowdy also scrutinized Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account when she was secretary of state.

In the letter, Cummings appeared to try to anticipate an argument that Gowdy might make — that he cannot investigate the whistleblower's claims as long as Flynn was still under investigation by Mueller's team.

"As chairman of the Benghazi select committee, you pursued your investigation of Hillary Clinton during an ongoing criminal investigation," Cummings wrote.

Searchers Seek 2 Men Missing From Capsized Boat in Juneau - U.S. News & World Report

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2017-12-06 08:33

Searchers Seek 2 Men Missing From Capsized Boat in Juneau
U.S. News & World Report
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A boat capsized in Juneau's Gastineau Channel and the Coast Guard is searching for two missing men. Juneau police at about 9 p.m. Tuesday received a call from a witness reporting screaming from near the breakwater at Aurora ...

Alaska boy finds gun in nightstand, fatally shoots himself - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2017-12-06 08:24

Alaska boy finds gun in nightstand, fatally shoots himself
Juneau Empire
ANCHORAGE — A 5-year-old Anchorage, Alaska, boy died after finding a gun and shooting himself. Anchorage police said Christian Johnnson died Tuesday. Police shortly before 12:30 a.m. took a call on the shooting at a home in east Anchorage. Police say ...

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Unrelenting Southern California wildfires threaten thousands of homes

Alaska News - Wed, 2017-12-06 08:23

Ferocious wildfires continued to rage across Southern California on Wednesday, destroying hundreds of homes and forcing thousands of residents to flee as forecasters and officials warned that dangerous fires could endanger the region for days.

The wave of fires that broke out early this week spread quickly and mercilessly, with the largest blaze expanding across a region the size of Cleveland in a matter of hours. Emergency responders hurried to evacuate residents, protect homes and shut down roads across the region, even as authorities warned that the biggest fire was "still out of control" early Wednesday and keeping crews from entering the area.

This largest fire, known as the Thomas Fire, had erupted in Ventura County northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The Thomas Fire tore across 50,000 acres, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced 27,000 people to evacuate, most of whom were left wondering whether their residences were among those destroyed, officials said.

More than 1,000 firefighters were on the scene, county officials said in a notice posted online, but they were unable to enter the fire area "due to the intensity of the fire." Stretches of cities and communities were evacuated, while numerous schools across the area were shut down.

In Los Angeles County, firefighters rushed to respond to a pair of blazes. The Creek Fire north of downtown Los Angeles burned across 11,000 acres by Tuesday night, while the smaller Rye Fire churned through 5,000 acres.

The fires across the southern part of the state tore through neighborhoods, burning out cars and homes, sending thick waves of smoke into the air and leaving behind waves of ash and destruction. Thousands of people also lost power due to the fires.

Gov. Jerry Brown, D, declared states of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to the fires, and his office said the blazes threatened thousands of homes.

"It's critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so," Brown said in a statement.

So far, officials have not announced any deaths due to the fires, but they stressed that people faced mortal danger if they did not heed evacuation orders. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, D, declared a state of emergency and said that more than 30 buildings had burned in the blaze. He also said that some 150,000 people lived in evacuation areas.

"We want to be really clear, folks," he said. "We have lost structures; we have not lost lives. Do not wait. Leave your homes."

Three firefighters in Los Angeles were injured and taken to a hospital, all in stable condition, according to local officials who did not elaborate on their injuries. A battalion chief in Ventura was injured in a traffic accident and was expected to recover.

The coming days could continue to present new risks of additional wildfires, authorities warned. Charlie Beck, the Los Angeles police chief, said the region was facing "a multiday event," adding: "This will not be the only fire."

These latest wildfires come during a brutal year for California, burning just months after deadly blazes in the state's wine country killed dozens of people and razed thousands of buildings. Wildfires need three things to start and spread – fuel, dry weather and an ignition source – and the fires this week had ready access to all three.

The fire's fuel was a year in the making. After an epic, multiyear drought, California finally got the rain and snow it needed last winter, and that allowed vegetation to rebound. The hills turned green and the brush thickened. But as the weather turned dry, it created plentiful amounts of fuel, which are now feeding the wildfires.

Cal Fire said it has moved resources from the northern part of the state to the south and prepared aircraft and fire equipment to respond. Tim Chavez with Cal Fire said a lack of rain in the region in recent months has made conditions particularly susceptible to a wildfire.

"This year . . . no rain came in September, October and November in Southern California. So we have incredibly desiccated dry fuels," he said.

The National Weather Service said the risks could last through Friday, issuing "red flag" warnings of heightened fire risk for Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Friday. A combination of low humidity and surging winds could lead to "very rapid fire growth" and "extreme fire behavior," the service warned.

Aerial images showed huge clouds of thick smoke billowing around the Los Angeles region.

Some people driven from their homes by the fires said they saw the danger that loomed.

"This is life in Southern California. This is where we live," said Mark Gennaro, who was told his home of 12 years was destroyed. "I stand on that back hill and I see all that brush and I'm like, 'Something's gonna happen at some point.'"

Those who escaped the fires reported apocalyptic scenes at their homes and when they tried to leave.

"The trees within the complex were already on fire," Lance Korthals, 66, who fled his apartment complex in Ventura. "I had to drive around the flames that were already flowing into the road."

Gena Aguayo, 53, of Ventura, said she saw fire "coming down the mountain." When Lorena Lara evacuated with her children on Tuesday morning after initially staying put, she said the wind was so strong it was blowing ashes into her home.

"I've never experienced something like that," said Lara, 42. "Maybe in Santa Barbara, but we didn't expect it here."

The Washington Post's Max Ufberg and Noah Smith in Ventura and Angela Fritz in Washington contributed to this report.

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