Gov Parnell Smacks Down Feds
Yesterday, a “Federal Overreach Summit” began in Anchorage. For two days, lawmakers and administration officials will gripe about the “feds” and what is described as intrusion into Alaska’s affairs. But the federal overreach discussed on the first day of the summit didn’t touch on Stand Your Ground law, or issues of reproductive choice, or gay marriage, or even voting rights which have been so much in the news as of late. This federal overreach is quite specific, and gets to the heart of what this administration considers important. It’s all about land use and resource extraction.
A Department of Natural Resources advisory commission is responsible for putting on the event.
Gov. Parnell was the first speaker, and appeared via video conference on a screen at the front of the hall in the Dena’ina Center downtown. The connection was awful, and his voice continually faded in and out. A later speaker described the governor as being “passionate” about the issue. If by “passionate” he meant that Parnell had a facial expression, and didn’t look and sound like he was in the middle of a bowl of Cream of Wheat, then yes.
He said that the conference was, in effect, meant to “heal a disease which afflicts the nation.”
Federal agency overreach is a bigger problem today than it has been in the past, Parnell said, “because we no longer have 3 functioning co-equal branches of government. Most Americans agree that Congress is broken.”
Speaking of which, Don Young addressed the convention today on Day 2.
We need to restore Congress to its constitutional place and function, he said, or the executive branch will continue to “gobble up control over air land and sea.”
“The current administration in Washington has essentially abandoned the legislative process,” he said, “instead choosing to enact laws unilaterally.”
“Now, in Alaska, federal overreach looks like harassment of Alaska Natives harvesting sea otter; blocking King Cove residents from accessing health and safety personnel; failure to hold timely lease sales and delayed permitting decisions; attempting to add new and more onerous designations on land our citizens are already blocked from accessing, and utilizing for our benefit,” Parnell said. “It’s about using the Endangered Species Act as a land use planning tool.”
*Remember this list for later, when the Attorney General, and the Governor’s policy advisor give away what the governor is doing.
“America can no longer afford to sleep while our Constitutional freedom is eaten away,” Parnell continued.
“Now, I know you’ve taken some criticism for even daring to have this summit,” Parnell said. “One newspaper opinion writer said she took offense that on the one hand, we would complain about parts of federal government overreach, while with the other we accept federal dollars under federal law. But that’s faulty logic.”
He went on to equate it with blaming a woman in an abusive relationship with a “controlling and manipulative person,” by saying “she should be quiet because she’s accepting part of his paycheck and food. That’s just wrong,” he said. And then, he went full-on Palin. “We will not sit down and shut up.”
Yes. Yes, he did. And in addition to quoting his former boss, he said the federal government is an abusive spouse.
Considering that 2/3 of Alaska is federal land, and Alaska does take far more from the federal government than we give back, and also considering that Alaska is in far better fiscal shape than anywhere else in the nation, we’re in for some bumpy times in this relationship it would seem.
“Thank you for courageously standing against that kind of chatter,” he said. And by “that kind of chatter” the governor means the excellent article by Mudflats editor and Anchorage Daily News columnist, Shannyn Moore, which you can read HERE.
“We stand with the federal government shoulder to shoulder when they get it right,” he concluded. But remember, they only get it right when they do exactly what the Parnell administration wants. And what they want became increasingly clear as the day went on.
Attorney General Michael Geraghty followed the governor’s address, which was received by polite applause.
He launched right in to the EPA which is “bound and determined to extend its reach,” he said. He is a member of the National Association of Attorney Generals (NAAG), and they’re always looking for good cases. He said that, for instance, if there was a “guy in Idaho” trying to build a home but needed a wetland permit, that kind of case would be great. “If that were Chevron looking to expand a refinery… I don’t think that case would have had nearly the appeal.”
Got it. Look for, and use Joe Sixpack in Idaho in order to surreptitiously benefit Chevron without having to actually say that out loud. You sneaky AG, you.
(Remember when the governor was talking about all those specific issues regarding Alaska Native custom, and people who needed a particular road for safety purposes? If that were Shell drilling in the arctic and stressing out polar bears, or Pebble Mine putting in a giant road to Bristol Bay, that wouldn’t have nearly the appeal, right?)
At the end of Geraghty’s speech, Rep. John Coghill (R) encouraged anyone in the audience who might know of any specific case of federal overreach like the “guy in Idaho” to make sure to contact the Attorney General.
Randy Ruaro, a holdover from the Palin administration, now a Policy Director for the governor, spoke next.
He too, was not happy with issues of wetlands, and endangered species. “At the direction of the governor we remain vigilant for federal actions that affect the opportunity of Alaskans to work and take other steps,” he said, and went on to talk about coordinating and working with western states like Utah and Wyoming for “issue spotting.”
(Issue spotting! Looking for cases involving real folks, because taking up arms for the interest of multinational corporations just doesn’t hold the same appeal for people)
“Unilateral handing down of decree from DC without having input from the state or holding public meetings gets governors and people angry,” he said. “That’s how to get sued.”
Ruaro went on to say regarding land and water issues that:
“The Governor has requested funding for proactive science. It’s good to have your own science when you’re debating the federal government.”
Um. What exactly is “proactive science?” Is that like activist judges? Whatever it is, you can be assured that after the proactive scientists get their assignment, we’ll discover that Pebble Mine is completely benign, just like the Chuitna Coal strip mine, Wishbone Hill, and leveling the Tongass for wide-plank flooring.
“Decisions on the ground in Alaska are controlled in Washington, DC,” Ruaro concluded. That results in delays. The government should release more control to federal supervisors in Alaska, “who are lifelong Alaskans and have a better grip on what is happening here.”
Next came Ed Fogels, the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Commissioner Daniel Sullivan in serving in Afghanistan, and doing well according to Fogels.
“State agencies are to look for ways to make permitting more efficient,” he said. We can assume that “efficient” means faster and with fewer annoying rules and regulations. Because permitting is driven by a federal process, he said, the state was “anticipating permitting burdens from shale oil.”
He then brought up the topic of SB27, which he said was critically important, and deals with wetlands primacy. “You can’t do anything in AK without getting a wetlands permit. The Clean Water Act allows states to take primacy for that… This bill gives DNR and the Department of Environmental Conservation the authority to develop a program. It will take a growth in government and more staff,” Ruaro explained, “so we want to make sure it’s worth it.”
Primacy is one tool states can use to get control over wetlands use. “The end goal is to get more control over this permitting process.”
Which brought him directly with the issue everyone was expecting – The Bristol Bay Watershed assessment, in which the EPA confirmed common sense saying that putting a gigantic open pit gold and copper mine at the headwaters of the world’s largest wild salmon fishery isn’t going to end well.
“It could result in additional federal regulation of our land. There will be some extra federal burden of regulation on our land. We need to watch this one very carefully,” Ruaro cautioned.
He also addressed the Wishbone Hill mining project in the Mat-Su Valley. The feds are “challenging a permit we issued 20 years ago for the Wishbone Hill mine,” he said. “15 years ago we forgot to check a box and now (the permit is) invalid.” There’s a “Big push to solve this, and the International Mining Compact is helping us on this one.” All hail Sen. Cathy Giessel (R) who makes this possible.
“The arctic is the next thing,” said Ruaro. “They want to build integrated arctic management. They’re building it right now. We’re pleading with them not to put more regulations on us.”
The morning wrapped up with the history of Alaska land management from Dick Mylius, retired from the DNR. A few fun facts:
Alaska has more state land than the state land of all other states combined.
Current land ownership breaks down thus:
State land – 100 million acres
Native corporation land – 46 million acres.
National parks and refuges – 124 million acres.
National forest land – 22 million acres.
US bureau of land management – 73 million acres.
Municipal and private ownership – 5 million acres.
Even though, that last number looks pretty small, Alaska has the Highest private land ownership per capita, he told us.
And during the lesson, he made sure we know that Alaska owns the land underneath navigable waterways. He didn’t specifically mention the Chuit River, but steps toward the Chuitna coal strip mine project seem to have the support of the governor. This project would allow legal mining through a salmon stream for the first time ever.
Well? How else are we going to get to our land underneath the river?
And Alaska owns lands offshore, up to the three mile limit. In case there’s anything we need out there.
Day two of the Summit welcomes Senator Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, and Congressman Don Young. Report to follow.