Alaska is defined by its natural resources and protecting them for the benefit of its citizens is a bedrock principle of our state. The Alaska constitution protects our favorite fishing holes, hunting areas and the clean water we depend on in our communities. Right now our right to the use and enjoyment of our renewable natural resources is threatened by a proposed law that will be considered during the 2014 legislative session. House Bill 77 erodes existing standards and removes reasonable checks and balances in natural resource decisions. If this bill passes the scales would tip drastically toward corporate benefit at the expense of all Alaskans.
Take Action to help protect Alaska’s fundamental right to renewable natural resources. This bill will have a harmful impact on every Alaskan who enjoys fishing, hunting, or boating and uses clean water.
HB 77 is a sweeping bill that includes dozens of provisions that rollback commonsense safeguards for salmon and renewable natural resources. The bill:
The bill gives expansive power to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner to give development permits with little public input and to disregard existing regulations that protect fish, clean water and wildlife. As long as the DNR determines that the activity won’t result in “significant, irreparable harm” to state land or resources, a permit can be granted.
According to DNR, what constitutes, as “significant and irreparable harm” will be decided on a case-bycase basis. The Commissioner can issue a permit that may result in significant harm as long as he believes that harm is reparable in the future. There would be no requirement for public notice or any other check or balance on the issuance of these permits. For example, would an open pit mine with plans to be filled in in 80 years be considered irreparable? The Commissioner will have the power to answer this question without input from Alaskans. By granting the Commissioner power to issue general development permits, the law will give unprecedented control to one person.
Under current law, individuals, organizations and corporations can apply for and hold a right to use water. This water can be taken out of a stream and used for purposes like drinking water, agriculture, or mining. A water right can also be kept in streams and rivers for fish, wildlife, tranportation or recreation purposes. The latter are called “instream water reservations.” HB 77 would take away both individuals’ and organizations’ rights to apply for instream water reservations for public uses--including the protection of fish and wildlife. That means that large corporations from outside of Alaska can apply for the rights to take water out of a stream but Alaskans can’t apply for the right to keep water in a stream for fishing or transportation. Furthermore, the bill would automatically reject the pending reservation applications that are currently on file at the DNR from individuals and organizations. One reason DNR is supportive of this action is to address the backlog of applications they currently have. However, of the 371 applications currently subitted, over 90% are from the state or federal government. Removing the 37 non-government applications does little to reduce DNR’s backlog, but does a lot to harm fish.
HB 77 will remove an important step that checks and reviews DNR’s permitting decisions. Under existing law anyone that can show they will be negatively impacted by an agency decision can request an administrative or court review. HB 77 makes it significantly more difficult to initiate the process by requiring a person to show they would be “substantially and adversely affected” rather than simply “aggrieved.” Fewer individuals would be able to raise valid concerns about DNR’s natural resource decisions and there would be fewer tools available to hold the agency accountable to the public. Alaskans should be wary of attempts to remove public input from state decisions, and limit access to courts. The due process of law is a right guaranteed to all Alaskans.
Catch up what Alaskans are saying about HB 77 in the news.