Former Peltola chief of staff will lobby, consult for Alaska interests in D.C.
Alex Ortiz, a longtime staffer to the Alaska delegation, has taken a job as a lobbyist and consultant at Capitol Hill Consulting Group, whose clients include Native corporations and a mining company
The U.S. Capitol is seen on March 21, 2023. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)
Say what you want about Elon Musk, but Starlink has fueled some surprisingly productive working hours here on the banks of the Ivan River, where I’ve been helping friends at a small commercial salmon fishing operation for the past couple of weeks.
Here’s a dispatch on some Alaska-related developments in Washington, D.C., a substantial fine for alleged Clean Water Act violations by a Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member and discouraging news about the state’s major proposed liquefied natural gas export project.
Former Peltola chief of staff takes lobbying, consulting job in D.C.
Alex Ortiz, a longtime staffer to Alaska’s congressional delegation who worked as chief of staff to Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola until last spring, has taken a job as a lobbyist and consultant at a Washington, D.C., firm.
Ortiz, whose departure from Peltola’s office was announced in April, is now a senior vice president at Capitol Hill Consulting Group. He said he’ll work with the firm’s chief operating officer, Kristina Wilcox, whose Alaska-focused clients include Native corporations and a company that seeks to develop a graphite mine on the Seward Peninsula.
Ortiz, who’s originally from Ketchikan, is a Republican who also served as chief of staff to longtime GOP U.S. Rep. Don Young until Young’s death last year. He made headlines for serving roughly seven months in the same position for Peltola, a centrist Democrat who’s hired another Republican, former state Sen. Josh Revak, as her state director.
Ortiz said Tuesday that he’s being “incredibly careful” to comply with U.S. House ethics rules that bar him from lobbying Peltola and her office for a year. He’s free to lobby all other members of Congress and committees, and he’s not barred from dispensing advice to his colleagues about how they can best work with Peltola’s office.
Ortiz also has a contract with Peltola’s political action committee, Cache PAC, to work on outreach to Alaska Natives and Republicans.
Ortiz said he’s excited to continue his relationships with some of the same Alaska entities he worked with while he was a congressional staffer.
His firm’s clients include Bering Straits Native Corp., Arctic Slope Regional Corp., Arctic-focused telecommunications provider Quintillion and mining company Graphite One.
Patagonia, United Nations officials propose friend-of-the-court briefs opposing Willow
Apparel company Patagonia and four United Nations human rights advocates are asking a federal judge’s permission to file friend-of-the-court briefs in a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s approval of the major Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope.
Attorneys for the two groups filed their proposed briefs Wednesday opposing the ConocoPhillips project, which could produce 180,000 barrels of oil a day.
Patagonia has involved itself in numerous other high-profile environmental controversies, including by suing former President Donald Trump’s administration over a move to shrink the size of national monuments in Utah.
In its 30-page proposed brief, the company said it plays a “leading role” in the outdoor recreation economy and has a stake in the Willow project because of its potential to contribute to global warming.
“Soaring temperatures, extreme weather events, reduced winter snowpack, smoke-filled skies from wildfires, degraded rivers and lakes and diminished wildlife populations will reduce access to outdoor recreation opportunities, which in turn impacts demand for the goods and services the outdoor recreation industry provides,” the company said.
The four U.N. “special rapporteurs” proposing their own brief focus, respectively, on human rights and climate change, toxics and human rights, human rights and the environment, and the right to develop. In their proposed brief, they say that the Biden administration’s approval of Willow “would significantly impair the U.S. and other countries’ ability to meet their international law obligations to mitigate greenhouse gas and particulate emissions.”
Mat-Su Assembly member to pay $77,500 fine to settle alleged Clean Water Act violations
Rob Yundt (Matanuska-Susitna Borough)
The EPA had previously alleged that Yundt violated the CWA by placing rock and gravel in wetlands next to a pair of Mat-Su lakes that connect to the federal waters of Knik Arm.
Yundt had previously tried to resolve the allegations through two 2021 agreements to restore the sites. But the EPA, in a new legal complaint filed in April, said Yundt had not finished required restoration and mitigation work.
Now, the federal government has filed a proposed 111-page “consent decree” to resolve the matters. The document, signed by Yundt and federal attorneys, lays out the fine against him, along with restoration, mitigation and preservation work that Yundt will be required to perform and file reports on.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which is pursuing the case against Yundt on the EPA’s behalf, declined to comment.
Yundt, in an interview Tuesday, said the work he did at the two sites — including the installation of a dock at a personal property — was permitted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and discussed beforehand with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“I did it exactly the way they told me to do it,” he said.
Yundt said he would have continued to fight the allegations if not for his family and the need to pay for college for his kids. And he invited people to his property to see the work that was the subject of the allegations against him.
Yundt is up for re-election in November.
He is also in the midst of a contentious Assembly debate where he and another member have proposed to shrink no-construction buffers around lakes to 45 feet from 75 feet. But that discussion applies to borough rules, not federal, Yundt said, adding that it’s unrelated to his conflict with the EPA.
East Anchorage residents, Mat-Su Borough ask for sanctions against redistricting board
Three residents of East Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough, who successfully challenged maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Alaska Redistricting Board, are now asking for financial penalties against the board.
Those plaintiffs, in a 32-page “motion for sanctions” filed Tuesday, said those penalties are merited by what they describe as “systematic” violations of legal rules that produced higher attorney bills and “obstruction of a constitutionally afforded right to participate in the redistricting process.”
“The board attempted to evade judicial review by shielding its process and deliberations from the public eye,” the motion says. “The board’s tactics went beyond the bound of creative advocacy and constituted repeated abuses of the judicial process.”
The motion notes that the redistricting board’s attorneys themselves could be penalized up to $50,000 under Alaska’s legal rules. But their primary request is that the judge in the case account for the alleged violations as he decided how legal fees should be divided up between the different sides of the litigation.
AIDEA replaces attorneys on Ambler road litigation
Alaska’s economic development agency has replaced the contract attorneys it’s using to defend federal authorizations it’s received to build a controversial road to a mining prospect in Northwest Alaska.
Holland & Hart, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s longtime legal firm in lawsuits filed by tribes and environmental groups, has been replaced by Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot, according to documents filed this month with the federal judge overseeing the cases.
An AIDEA spokesperson referred questions about the decision to the Alaska Department of Law. A department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Wall Street Journal says Asian buyers aren’t sold on Alaska’s big LNG project
A new Wall Street Journal report says Alaska’s major proposed liquefied natural gas export project, Alaska LNG, is not getting traction with potential buyers in its key markets of Japan and South Korea.
Citing unnamed sources, the story — headlined “U.S. Allies in Asia Snub Natural Gas From Alaska Project” — says “potential buyers aren’t confident in the project’s timeline” and adds that competing projects will offer other sources of natural gas by 2030.
A screengrab of the WSJ’s story.
“The most important thing for buyers is evaluating how feasible an LNG project is, and with Alaska LNG, we’ve seen too little progress for too long,” the story quotes “an official in charge of LNG projects at one of Japan’s top importers” as saying.
Alaska GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, along with Biden administration officials, have been boosting the project in the past year, saying it’s closer than ever as American allies seek to reduce dependence on Russian gas.
In a prepared statement in response to the story, a spokesperson for the state agency leading the project, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., said it’s in “advanced discussions with well-qualified international LNG investors, developers and buyers, including from Japan and Korea.”
“These companies possess the necessary capitalization and expertise to develop a project of this magnitude and are expending significant time and financial resources to thoroughly evaluate Alaska LNG,” said spokesperson Tim Fitzpatrick. “We remain on track with our previously identified schedule for this project, which will provide greater energy security for the U.S. and our Pacific allies.”
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