A new round of federal grants is heading to Alaska in 2022 that will benefit Fairbanks’ economy and other inland communities.
In fiscal year 2020, Covid humanitarian assistance represented a windfall of federal dollars for Alaska and other states.
And Alaska’s biggest cash crop has become cannabis, overtaking traditional products like hay.
There’s more news in “Five Things to Know.”
Interior communities benefit from federal grants
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, announced a series of federal grants for Alaskan communities, including more than half a million dollars for initiatives in Fairbanks and the interior.
The Tanana Chiefs’ Conference will receive $201,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development to fund technical support and water system operator training for small rural water systems. Drinking water and sanitation is a major problem for rural and remote tribal communities. TCC serves 42 inland villages.
The National Science Foundation is awarding nearly $305,000 to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for research on improving climate models for sea ice systems. The new research will use observations from the MOSAiC field campaign. MOSAiC stands for the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory Expedition for the Study of the Arctic Climate, which took place in 2019-2020.
In this research, scientists studied the environment of the Arctic Ocean to better understand the rapid warming occurring in the region.
Statewide, Alaska School Lunch Programs will receive more than $3.6 million to manage supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. The money comes from the USDA’s Special Supply Chain Assistance Fund and will go to schools and school lunch programs.
Covid relief dollars sank in fiscal 2020
Medicaid made up the largest share of federal grants in Alaska and most states in fiscal year 2020, followed by pandemic relief funds.
In Alaska, Medicaid dollars accounted for 32% of federal grants, followed by Covid-related grants at 29%, according to Pew Trusts, which looked at federal grant funding by state.
Medicaid has been the largest source of federal grants to US states in recent years. But Covid dollars significantly increased the overall flow of federal grants to states and municipalities in fiscal year 2020, Pew Trusts reports. It was the second largest type of subsidy in most states.
An increase in the federal Medicaid matching rate was also part of the pandemic assistance package that states received in the form of grants in fiscal year 2020. According to Pew, a nonpartisan organization, federal assistance allows States to endure periods of economic difficulty, such as the Covid-19 epidemic which has slowed down businesses.
The U.S. fiscal year 2021 bailout, for example, provided $350 million in relief to state, local and tribal governments.
Making hay with cannabis
Cannabis is the fifth most valuable crop in the United States, with a value of $6.2 billion. The 2020 wholesale value was higher for cannabis than for cotton.
In Alaska, the value of commercial cannabis crops ranks first at $104 million.
The results come from an annual cannabis harvest report from Leafly, which calculated the value of the harvest based on the most recent 12-month figures available. Cannabis crop values were measured against other agricultural products based on USDA figures.
Leafly compared agricultural production in states where the retail sale of cannabis is legal for the general public.
In Alaska, 21 tons of cannabis were harvested in 2020 by a total of 356 growers, who hold state cultivation licenses. Cannabis is Alaska’s largest crop by market value.
Besides Alaska, cannabis is the most valuable agricultural crop in Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon, according to statistics.
According to Leafly, “The value of cannabis to Alaskan agriculture is so overwhelming that we didn’t believe it at first. But it’s true: Alaska’s cannabis crop is twice as valuable as all other agricultural products – livestock and crops – combined.
All other farm animals and crops combined statewide brought in about $40 million. The closest competing crop was hay.
Alaska is a leader in advocating for the federal decriminalization of marijuana, with U.S. Representative Don Young, R-Alaska, sponsoring bills in Congress to allow states to regulate cannabis as they do to the alcohol. Legalization would end the barriers that plague cannabis growers, advocates say. Banking restrictions create a predominantly monetary system that poses security concerns. Getting a small business loan and business insurance are also challenges.
The next frontier for climate activists?
Kristen Miller, acting director of the Alaska Wilderness League, told the energy news service E&E News that conservationists see Alaska’s Arctic as “the next frontier” in the fight against climate change. .
“There’s a big question about how oil and gas can move forward,” Miller said, according to an article on E&E’s Energy News Wire.
The future of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska is an important question for the Biden administration, which has ambitious climate goals.
One question raised is whether Biden can limit oil drilling in the Alaska Petroleum Reserve to places where the industry already has federal drilling rights.
In the United States, fossil fuel companies have leased more than 26 million acres but are only drilling on half. While climate advocates want tougher limits, big oil companies fear a new era of regulation will lead to higher fees, greater bonding requirements and higher royalties.
What happens at the Willow project, approved under the Trump administration, could help determine the future environment for drilling in Alaska. While the project has been stalled in court, oil companies see drilling at Willow opening up new opportunities in the National Petroleum Reserve that would connect remote lands to North Slope processing facilities.
“Willow is hugely important,” said Mark Oberstoetter, oil and gas analyst at Wood Mackenzie.
Permanent Fund Trustees on Legislative Agenda
Board members of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. are due to testify before the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee when it meets at 2 p.m. on January 17.
Lawmakers have said they want to question directors about why they fired Angela Rodell as chief executive after the $80 billion fund enjoyed record growth under her five-year stewardship.
The testimony invited by the administrators is item IV, under “other matters”. There is an asterisk next to the agenda item. At the bottom of the schedule is the following note: “Some or all invited testimony: The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation Board of Directors may be held in executive session.”
The Alaska Permanent Fund is an investment fund that includes stocks, bonds, real estate, and private equity. A percentage of the fund’s revenue pays 65% of government services and generates an annual dividend for every eligible resident of the state, regardless of age.