A DEC Budget Trap

So far, only three states in the United States have assumed primacy for dredge and fill permitting in wetlands. One of those states - Florida - assumed permit primacy in the waning days of the Trump administration. Like Governor Sean Parnell before him, Governor Dunleavy wants Alaska to pay for wetland permitting that is now being paid for by the federal government. The rationale for this proposed forever budget increase paid for by our schools and universities and roads in lean years is that there is an expectation that there will be a return on investment. Through far more relaxed permitting requirements, zero Tribal consultation, and minimal enforcement, Alaska will see a massive influx of Mines.

Governor Dunleavy convinced the state House Finance Committee to add $5 million to the operating budget so that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation could hire 32 full-time staff. This means 32 new full-time salaries, benefits, travel budgets, etc., to create a state wetland dredge and fill program that is equivalent to the program already paid for by the federal EPA. Perhaps the Dunleavy administration is going to pay these new workers peanuts. $5 million is a far cry from the cost estimate in 2013 when Governor Parnell foisted primacy on the Legislature. At that time - EPA had 49 positions administering its permitting program at a cost of $7.9 million in 2013 dollars. You don't have to read a crystal ball to see how this will play out for Alaska should the Senate adopt the House numbers and we start a wetland permitting program. You can bet that if the Legislature agrees to this initial $5 million allocation, we should more realistically expect to pay at least a 10 million dollar figure, subject to inflation, moving forward in countless budget years.

It will require more money than was described initially by a less than trustable Dunleavy Administration and the former Pebble spokesperson running DEC now - you can bank on that as a fact. It will lead to costly litigation for the state - bank on that. It will be a messy and costly tug of war between the state and federal government–look at what happened in Florida.

In Florida, with a Governor who is predictably combative with the federal government, there is significant disagreement on the scope of what are to be considered wetlands. Florida continues to apply the Trump EPA version, a predictably and significantly restrictive definition. This definition (Waters Of The United States - WOTUS) was invalidated by a district court opinion, and the Biden EPA is applying a pre-2015 version of WOTUS to which Florida disagrees. Alaska has 65% of the nation's wetlands and a Governor who loves nothing more than to spend state money fighting the Feds, so the Legislature should anticipate this allocation to DEC will also kick off endless increases in "Statehood Defense" spending. 

The return on investment for paying to take over wetland permitting is likely to be this: 1. Good grandstanding politics for Governors. 2. Mine development plans that factor in lax state permitting and no Tribal consultation, so Mines are freer to destroy salmon habitat, and 3. Jobs–mainly for State attorneys paid out of the General Fund to fight with the EPA. That sounds like a great deal!

The State Senate should say No to this allocation of our money.

The Alaska Center

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