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October 31, 2014

“Silencing Alaskans Act” Likely to Return

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House Bill 77 Sought to Deny Citizens a Voice in Resource Development

Alaska is defined by our natural resources – spectacular wildlife, abundant fisheries, vast reserves of oil, gas and other minerals, and endless acres of forests, wetlands and water.  Under our constitution, these resources belong to all Alaskans for our “common use.” They are protected through a sensible set of laws that protect the public’s interest and ensure our resources are developed prudently and sustainably for the maximum benefit of all Alaskans.

Because of the tremendous value we put on these resources, Alaskans were outraged when Governor Parnell and his Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, Dan Sullivan attempted to wrestle legislators into passing House Bill 77.  This sweeping legislation proposed removing scores of protections for our resources under the guise of “streamlining” industry permits.  It ran roughshod over countless laws, even trampling our Constitution.  Alaskans testified in droves against this dangerous bill and killed it … this year.

Unfortunately, it will likely rear its ugly head under a new name next year.  The Governor and his special interest backers will not give up easily.  Below are just a few of the most harmful provisions of H.B. 77.

GENERAL PERMITS 

Section 1 as originally written allowed the Department of Natural Resources Commissioner to authorize any activity – you heard me, any activity ­– on state land via “a general permit,” so long as the activity won’t result in what DNR considers “significant, irreparable harm to state land or resources.” It gave the commissioner the power to singlehandedly issue permits, “notwithstanding any other provision of the law.”  This was an unprecedented and dangerous expansion of the authority of a single, unelected government official.

It meant that activities that are harmful to fisheries, wildlife, lands and waters could be authorized with few findings and no public input.  Section 1 would have given then Commissioner Dan Sullivan unfettered authority to trump almost any protection currently provided by law.  It undid over 50 years of hard-fought public safeguards in one sentence.

The commissioner could have allowed an activity that wiped out a salmon run for decades or closed hunting in a particular area for a generation.  Neither of these impacts is “irreparable” since eventually hunting or fishing could resume.

Conceivably, DNR would have been granted the authority to issue a general permit for mineral extraction in a sensitive fishery area without public notice or the opportunity to comment.  This raises a host of concerns, not to mention significant constitutional issues as the Alaska Constitution requires public notice of leases or disposals of State land or interests, as well as the ability to challenge those actions in court.

ENSURING WATER FOR FISH 

H.B. 77 as originally proposed also would have taken away Alaskans’ rights to apply for “instream flow reservations” to protect water flow in streams for fishing and other recreation.  Currently, individuals, non-profits, and tribes all can “reserve” water for this purpose.

To make matters worse, the bill required the State to return pending applications for instream flow reservations. DNR has never decided a single instream flow application submitted by an individual, non-profit or tribe—even those submitted 20 years ago—so the bill would have retroactively taken away that right.

TAKING AWAY YOUR VOICE

H.B. 77 would have made it more difficult for Alaskans to challenge DNR decisions by cutting away at “standing,” which is essentially the ability to come before a judge or agency official and challenge a decision.  This is bad for Alaskans and Alaska. It limits the ability of an agency to review and correct its decisions and could lead to expensive court challenges that waste time and money.

The Alaska Constitution protects Alaskans’ right to “due process” – a right H.B. 77 seems to overlook.  H.B. 77 would allow only those “substantially and adversely affected” to appeal a decision. It also limited the right of Alaskans to challenge DNR decisions in court.

BAD LAW

H.B. 77 is an example of a bad bill that should never have been proposed.  It deserves to die forever, but that is not likely.  Stay tuned.  Toward the end of this past legislative session there were talks about stuffing parts of H.B. 77 into another bill.  In the chaos of the end of session the hope was the public would not notice.  It did, and that idea died, but I would urge those celebrating the demise of H.B. 77 to keep vigilant.  These bad ideas are likely to be back next year.

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Bill Wielechowski is the Democratic State Senator from Alaska’s District G, in East Anchorage, serving in this capacity since 2006.

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12 Responses to ““Silencing Alaskans Act” Likely to Return”
  1. Moose Pucky says:

    If the resources of Alaska belong to its people according to the Alaska Constitution, then such an act is unconstitutional.

  2. mike from iowa says:

    Depleteing non-renewable resources is not considered harming that resource? One could make an argument for logging every tree in Alaska and not harming tree resources because they may grow back in someone’s lifetime. If you see a tree as a finished paper product then there would be no harm in cutting it because all the little critters that have symbiotic relations with trees and forests and clean water will have those relationships restored if the forests ever grow back and the waters ever clear up..Besides, all thiose regulations are standing in the way of progress-korporate progress,not your’s.

  3. Editor says:

    Hey Shane Holt:

    does those lawsuits include the upcoming one that links Alaska Oil company to Palin’s abrupt departure and rumors of embezzling a HUGE trust account…that those around her did the money laundering out of the ‘birthright owner’ trust account, as hinted by Senator Hollis French? Let’s look that up on the internet…
    Western United Life Assurance Company and Ritcher Investments…funny how management of both is the same…so that is how they pillaged it in 1989…when the Guardian passed away…and the mayhem since then to keep the money from the owner is staggering…and DOCUMENTED…ouch in court indeed…pass it on Shane!

  4. mike from iowa says:

    C’mon gang,you can talk here. The Mudflats isn’t silencing anyone. Everybody has an opinion. Let’s hear them. Do not make me come to Alaska and start pulling your ears. I mean it!

  5. mike from iowa says:

    I plumb forgot this was a tale of two cities-Anchorage and Juneau.

  6. mike from iowa says:

    Just exactly how do Alaskans benefit from handing a 2 billion dollar a year windfall to some of the wealthiest korporations in America,with no strings attached? Did Parnell and wingnuts hand your constitution to big oil for a late night re-write? Will wingnuts ever be sated before all natural resources are sold to the highest bidder? Are there any wingnuts out there who actually care what happens to your state? Is socialism and welfare acceptable only when korporate amerika benefits from these programs? Got milk?

  7. mike from iowa says:

    …..it was the Best of Bills…with the worst of bills….that concludes my vast knowledge of Shakespeare.

  8. Zyxomma says:

    Remain vigilant, Alaskans. Thanks for posting, Bill.

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