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September 27, 2021

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How the Alaska House Gave Away State Sovereignty to the Federal Government

By Rep. Les Gara

I’m not a big fan of failure, and not a big fan of spending money on wasted Special Sessions. I’ve now voted three times, including yesterday, to pass the Coastal Zone Management bill that passed the Bi-Partisan Senate Monday, but surprisingly failed by three votes in the House yesterday. Failure to pass the bill gave away a big piece of state sovereignty to the federal government. Click HERE for a link to my speech on the House Floor on why I believed the bill should have passed, or read the text at the end of this newsletter.

For all the talk we hear from the Governor and others who say they want to stand up to the federal government, their opposition to this bill gave the Feds the farm. The bill, if it passed, met every FOX TV talking point we hear – local control, state control instead of federal control, and quicker project permitting. But most House Republicans voted against it. Here’s what was at stake, and what happened, and why I think Alaskans were “Lucy and the Footballed” – again.

The Coastal Zone Management bill would have required state development laws to apply on coastal federal waters and lands; and would have required that local communities be given a voice at the table. By failing the bill, the federal government will now exclusively apply federal law to those projects, and those decisions will be made by bureaucrats who largely don’t live in Alaska, don’t understand Alaska fisheries and communities, and don’t necessarily share our interest in moving forward with responsible development.

Communities won’t have their concerns aired before state representatives (under the bill local comments, on fishing stream protection or other matters, could have been can be incorporated into a development project plan, but only if those concerns were consistent with state development and resource laws). Now they’ll be allowed to comment, largely in writing, to federal officials who have the power to ignore their comments, and ignore state law.

When I was asked to go down for Special Session, I was told that we had 27 votes in the House for the Special Session on the very bill that failed. I assumed that meant we had 27 votes. So did everyone in the Senate. I wouldn’t have gone down to Juneau if I knew we’d be playing “Lucy and the Football.” We went to kick the winning field goal, and the football was removed just in the nick of time to give away state control over these projects.

It didn’t help that at the last minute oil industry members’ organization, “the Alliance”, and the Alaska Miners Association wrote letters in opposition to the bill. I don’t know if that changed any votes, but these companies have now bought themselves slower permitting by federal bureaucrats instead of faster permitting under state law – all because they didn’t want local communities to have a seat at the table. Maybe oil companies didn’t want to hear about strong oil spill contingency planning, or mining companies didn’t want to hear about project amendments aimed at protecting local fishing waters.

So – basically, failing this bill gives Alaska’s destiny on development projects to the federal government, and cuts out the voices of local Alaskans, and the application of our state’s laws on development. In addition it will slow down development projects. Every Democrat and four Republicans voted for the bill. Eighteen Republicans voted to end the program. The bill failed on an 18-18 vote – with four people who wouldn’t have changed the outcome absent.

Why will development now be slower? Because under the Coastal Zone law, all state permitting agencies acted together in reviewing permit applications. In essence, we had streamlined permitting,

And development projects that would otherwise have moved ahead are now jeopardized. For example, state laws on oil spill cleanups and contingency plans have historically been stronger than federal laws in that area. When companies come up with proposals to drill for oil and gas off shore on federal lands, the state could have, with stronger oil spill and prevention laws, dulled opposition to those projects.

The reason some gave for voting against the bill was that after this bill failed during the last session, most Coastal Zone employees left to find new jobs, and that would temporarily slow down permitting. I don’t buy it. Those folks chose Coastal Zone Management careers and many would have come back. We could have easily hired any of many contractors. And under state law, if we are understaffed and don’t render a decision within 90 days on a completed development project application, the application is automatically approved. Finally, we could have addressed this transition period as we hired our staff back by regulation if we wanted. And this concern didn’t appear until the last minute. The House Republican leadership wrote the bill we voted on. If they were concerned about this transition period, the bill should have included language to address it.

The Senate, myself, and others, remain mystified about a bill House and Senate leaders negotiated, that seemed to have the votes when 2/3 of the members said they wanted to go to Juneau for a Special Session, and that suddenly was voted upon by folks with changed minds.

A Special Session that should have been a success turned out to be a waste of public money. I’m happy to be home, but not happy with a vote tally that, in coming years, Alaskans and industry alike will regret.

Comments

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Comments
20 Responses to “How the Alaska House Gave Away State Sovereignty to the Federal Government”
  1. Jon Corbett says:

    Thanks for writingthis to explain to people the importance of our maintaining control over OUR resources. The AK House Majority and the AK governor are guilty of “Neglect of Duty”! They are not putting ALASKA FIRST. Keep up the fight and maybe next round of elections some different minds will be joining you in JNU…?

  2. Polarbear says:

    The Republicans do not want Point Hope, nor any other village, to have any say in Shell offshore exploration in the Chukchi Sea. Point Hope is fast becoming to offshore exploration what Arctic Village has been to exploration in ANWR.

  3. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    I’ll only make a brief comment here and since it is so late in the thread probably no one will see it.

    I would take issue with the idea that parallel permitting is a good idea or even possible.

    Take a potential mine for example. There is a permitting process associated with the penultimate phase of exploration when the developer is trying to determine if the project is viable on simple economic terms. From this is developed a projection of what the optimum production will be and how it will be accomplished. How can the state reasonably in advance of knowing whether the operator will choose a cyanide heap leach process over a flotation and electrolytic process, permit the plans and design of either one or both? They are very different things.

    I can think of many more examples in just the narrow context of a mine that would refute the idea that parallel permitting is even possible let alone a ‘feature’.

    Moreover given the apparent amount of corruption in AK government from the top down to the mayor’s party planner, why does anyone think that legislation that made permitting an exclusively local issue would actually have a social and not private benefit?

    Just my thoughts….

  4. carol says:

    I suggest that everyone, whether the Naysayers are your district or not, send letters to all of them asking the reasons for their vote. Hit the talking points that Les Gara gives us ( local control, state control instead of federal control, and quicker project permitting) and ask each and all of them to respond point by point. Send copies of your letters to your local newspapers.
    BTW, what happened in the Anchorage mayor’s attempt to short circuit citizen involvement, ie boards and commissions?

  5. 24owls says:

    This is how I see it – large corporations such as the mining, timber, oil drilling, etc can buy representatives from the federal government easier than from the local people. They can have a provision “slipped into” a much larger bill in Washington without anyone noticing, then all of a sudden the federal govt has given away mining contracts on the land without any one local to raise a voice. How many times have we heard that some “local” group has stopped a huge corporate project because there was a need for local input first before forging ahead. Follow the money – each one of the republicans have been bought and sold to corporate greed which is betting that in the future they will be able to buy the federal govt easier than the local community affected. Each one that voted against the bill will at some point claim they were doing it to bring “jobs to the area” – and then when things don’t go their way they will blame big govt for over reaching. You can recognize the same pattern in so many ways around the country. If the Koch brothers had a camp in that area you could be sure that the bill would have been voted the other way so they could buy and sell the local govt to their needs of making money regardless of the local impact.

  6. WhichTruth says:

    I see no benefit to the State of Alaska and its citizens with their failure to pass this. I’m feeling sold out, as I can find no logical reason for their decision.

  7. Sourdough Mullet says:

    I’m wondering how much of this decision was swayed (..purchased?) by the developers of the Pebble Mine project. They would LOVE to stifle state and local opposition to their giant open pit mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

    • WhichTruth says:

      Anyone know when the last campaign finance reports were filled and when the next ones have to be filed. It could be quite telling.

  8. Ratfish says:

    Hey Les- Just CHILL, will ya? Parnell may have abdicated state rights to the feds on management of coastal activities, but have no worries.

    He and his AG will soon announce another lawsuit against the feds for encroachment on the state just to distract anyone ‘cuz that how he rolls.

    Amazing that he can tell us the federal government is the big bad boogie man one day, and then open the door for the the next.

  9. Mo says:

    What I’d like to know is the names of the Republicans who voted against this.

    Someone please refresh my memory how to access this info online…

  10. jimzmum says:

    Mr. Gara, for those of us who do not live in your jurisdiction, would you please give us a timeline, if possible, of what might happen five years, ten years down the road with this action? I ask this because I am a resident in an Illinois county that has the Mississippi River as a western boundary. In 1993, one of our levees was dynamited (although that might not have been the explosive used) to alleviate flooding downstream. Remember the beautiful farmhouse floating away on CNN? A town was destroyed. Thousands of acres of productive cropland was under water, and family’s livelihoods were negated in the surge of water that inundated farms that had been in families for years and years.

    The Federal Government seems not to think of the here and now at times. I see this again with this flood. I see this again in Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota, on and on. If it isn’t this, it is something else.

    What is the reasoning, and how can we educate? Thank you.

    • lesgara says:

      We can’t know. Likely slower permitting. Likely less local voice on local issues like fishing stream protection – so projects that go ahead won’t be required to have important protections built in – industry will get it’s way, and trump local concerns. And likely decision by federal folks who don’t know local issues – so – likely lots of wrong decisions. And ironically for the oil industry, perhaps their defeat of this bill will result in a federal blockage of offshore drilling – since federal law will apply to the exclusion of local laws.

    • fishingmamma says:

      Chuitna.

  11. Millie says:

    Yea, Les Gara! Not in my district, but I’d vote for him in a heartbeat!

  12. Alaska Pi says:

    Yarg!
    I was hoping for some information which made sense of what the House did- or rather the nay votes did.
    Morons is right.

  13. Riverwoman says:

    AARRGGHH!!!….TEETH GRINDING!!!!….HEADBANGING!!!!!

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