Leg with Louie: The Illusion of a process

Senate Bill 51 (SB 51) creates the illusion of a process for citizens to nominate waters in Alaska for special protection. It is a response to the mandate under the Federal Clean Water Act that all states must provide a way for citizens to nominate high-value waters (Tier III waters) for protection in each state. Because it was written with direct input from the Alaska Miners Association (they are paying one of Juneau’s most powerful lobbyists a $60K contract this session to get SB 51 passed) this bill ensures that the process is long and political and all but impossible to pass through.

SB 51 proposes that for high-value fish habitat to be designated for protection it must be approved by the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, the Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, a majority vote of the Alaska State Legislature, and the Governor of Alaska. No other state requires its citizens to jump through this many hoops to protect high-value water. Alaska politics being under the influence of extractive industry money – you tell me the likelihood that one company or group won’t lobby to kill a nomination at one of the many pressure points built into this bill – which itself was built in part by the Alaska Miners Association.

SB 51 reprises a frequent argument of industry groups and politicians that Alaskans cannot be trusted to protect clean water in Alaska. “If given an inch, pesky Alaskans will take a mile. They will go overboard! They will if given the legal ability to nominate water for special protection from wastewater pollution – say an important salmon spawning habitat or an important source of human drinking water – they will (gasp!) seek to protect this thing they value by using legal tools.”

It is by no means a necessary bill. The Department of Environmental Conservation could by regulation create a science-based process for review of citizen nominations. The Department has taken the approach that they must defer to the Legislature on water protection, though this is a political posture, not a legal fact.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is supposed to be in charge of creating, reviewing and enforcing science-based water quality standards. That this agency claims it cannot accept, review and determine protections for water bodies based on whether the science confirms that the nominated body is indeed high value and worthy of protection, speaks to the political vulnerability of our state’s water permitting agency – and that is rather frightening considering the political power of those industries they are in charge of regulating.    

Senate Bill 51 was heard last week in the Senate Resources Committee, and it will be heard this upcoming week, and likely moved from committee. Alaskans should take note of this bill. If it passes into law, you lose another tool to participate in water protection.  

Louie Flora
Government Affairs Director

Protect our waters
No Pebble Mine

Hearings to watch

House Finance Public Budget Meetings Statewide

JUNEAUFriday, March 22 from 5-8 p.m. in Room 519 of the Alaska State Capitol, 120 4th Street, Juneau

KETCHIKAN: Saturday, March 23 from 12-3 p.m. in Ted Ferry Civic Center, 888 Venentia Avenue, Ketchikan

MAT-SU: Saturday, March 23 from 12-4 p.m. at the Mat-Su LIO, 600 E. Railroad Avenue, Wasilla

BETHEL: Saturday, March 23 from 2-5 p.m. at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center, 401 Chief Eddie Hoffman Hwy, Bethel

KENAI: Saturday, March 23 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Soldotna Sports Center, 538 Arena Avenue, Soldotna

ANCHORAGE: Sunday, March 24 from 2-5 p.m. at the Anchorage LIO, 1500 W. Benson Boulevard, Anchorage

SITKA: Sunday, March 24 from 2-5 p.m. at Centennial Hall Assembly Chambers, 330 Harbor Drive, Sitka

FAIRBANKS: Sunday, March 24 from 2-5 p.m. at the Fairbanks LIO, 1292 Sadler Way, Suite 308, Fairbanks

Committee Hearings

Monday, March 25th 1 p.m. House Resources Committee – Pebble Project Status and Update on Permitting and Environmental Impact Statement by Tom Collier, CEO, John Shively, Chairman and James Fueg,  VP of Permitting

Monday, March 25th 3:30 p.m. Senate Resources Committee – Pebble Project Status and Update on EIS

Monday, March 25th 5:30 p.m. House Finance Committee – Public Testimony on HB 39 Operating Budget

Monday, March 25th 6:30 p.m. House Resources Committee – Public Testimony on Jason Brune, Commissioner Appointee to the Department of Environmental Conservation

Tuesday, March 26 1:30 p.m. House Finance Committee – HB 39 Operating Budget

Tuesday, March 26th 5:30 p.m. House Finance Committee – HB 39 Operating Budget Public Testimony

Wednesday, March 27th 1:00 p.m. House Resources Committee – Alaska Minerals Commission Update

Wednesday, March 27th 3:30 p.m. Senate Resources Committee – SB 51 NATL. RES. WATER NOMINATION/ DESIGNATION

Thursday, March 28th 1:30 p.m. House Finance Committee – HB 39 Operating Budget

Friday, March 29th 1:30 p.m. House Finance Committee – Consideration of Governor’s appointment to Regulatory Commission of Alaska

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