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5 Things to Know in Alaska Politics: Covid presser, pizza city

5 Things to Know in Alaska Politics: Covid presser, pizza city and Alaskan mettle

By Linda F. Hersey

Fairbanks News-Miner

A Covid press conference on hospital bed space and supply shortages got testy between Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Alaska press. No one was positive about the results.

Whether you like a traditional red-sauced pizza or liberally sprinkle your pie with goat cheese, a new restaurant planned for Fairbanks has a decidedly populist approach to its menu. 

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

Alaska’s version of Meet the Press

The masks came off at a press conference the governor held to provide updates on Covid cases and hospital capacity (which is stretched).

Alaska’s press corps used the Q&A with Dunleavy to ask several times why he was not imposing vaccine requirements and mask mandates, or more strongly urging Alaskans to practice better health hygiene.

Political press corps have a well-earned reputation for herd mentality. Reporters from different media outlets took turns asking questions, excerpted here. (This is just a sample of the back-and-forth, which seemed to last longer than a rapid response Covid test.)

Reporter 1: If it is known that vaccinations work, why not require them?

Dunleavy: Folks have the ability and the choice to do it. You cross the line when you force the population of a state to undergo certain medical processes. Personally, I am not ready to cross that line to force people to get vaccinations.

Reporter 2: How can you address masking up and getting vaccinations, given that cases are higher?

Dunleavy: We do not grab people by the arm and force them to be vaccinated. They need to have conversations with their doctors. They have to know they run the risk with this variant that is highly contagious. We are just going to keep working to make sure capacity is there at the hospitals.

Reporter 3: But you are being criticized for not giving a more urgent call.

Dunleavy: This isn’t North Korea; you do not dictate how people live their lives … I am talking to Alaskans. I have told them my story about having the infection. I have told them about my decision on getting the vaccination. We have an excellent health system. People have to make the decision regarding their health.

Pizza politics

Whether your pie is topped with goat cheese and arugula or pepperoni and sausage, Blaze Pizza will fill the order for Fairbanks diners, when it opens a shop soon in the city.

Fairbanks is a pizza city with dozens of places to grab a slice, so the new place is sure to get a warm welcome. Blaze Pizza is best known for its fresh-made pizza crusts and letting diners custom-build pies, which independent Alaskans are sure to appreciate.

The California-based pizza chain announced that it signed an agreement with Greg and Catharine Persinger, franchise veterans who own Firehouse Subs and Cold Stone Creamery.

The Persingers are fourth- and fifth-generation Alaskans, whose families settled here long before Alaska was a state. Greg Persinger is a world-class athlete, too. He was a member of Team USA at the 2018 World Men’s Curling Championship.

Global minerals and Alaskan mettle

The surge in popularity of electric vehicles is creating a global run on minerals for batteries.

Lithium demand is projected to accelerate 40 fold by 2040 as it is sourced to make batteries for EVs and home storage.

Afghanistan, where the Taliban has seized power as America cedes control, turns out to be a significant untapped resource for lithium. A 2010 study described Afghanistan as sitting on the planet’s largest global deposit of lithium, worth trillions of dollars. The nation also has rare earths, copper and cobalt, all metals used in clean technologies.

China now dominates the global supply of minerals for smart technologies. Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan is among political leaders calling for America to source minerals domestically.

But is Alaska a source for lithium? No one knows for sure.

“While Alaska hosts potential sources of 30 out of 35 minerals considered critical to the United States, including most of the minerals and metals required for electric vehicles and battery storage, there have been no potentially viable sources of lithium discovered so far,” said Shane Lasley, publisher of North of 60 Mining News.

“Alaska, however, is a large and mineral-rich state that is vastly under explored. This is especially true for minerals like lithium, which were not in high-demand before the current push to transition to low-carbon energy and transportation,” Lasley said.

Got manure? Gas giant’s new energy source

Chevron Corp. is moving ahead with plans to create a renewable gas product from cow manure. Big oil companies like Chevron are adding renewable energy to their portfolios, as pressure grows for them to reduce their carbon output.

Chevron is partnering with Brightmark for nearly 40 plants to make bio-methane to power long-haul trucks. The plants are slated to start operating in 2022. Chevron leaders say they see a commercial market for trucking fleets and the renewable fuel.

Connecting Alaska Native communities

The FCC has granted six licenses to Alaska tribal governments to connect remote communities with 5G and other wireless services. High-speed internet is considered essential for connecting distant communities with education, employment and other resources.

The FCC licenses went to tribes in tiny communities outside the Interior. The Sitka tribe was among the recipients.

“I’m proud that the FCC could grant these licenses to help provide advanced wireless services to rural Alaskans, and of the ongoing work by the agency to process Tribal applications that are still pending,” said FCC acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel.

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