Ballot Measure 2, establishing an Alaska coastal zone management program, is bad for Alaska energy consumers.
Energy costs in Alaska are high. In Southcentral, "cheap" natural gas has run its course. Fairbanks is suffering with very high fuel oil costs. Rural Alaska energy costs are even higher. A robust economy demands responsible, environmentally sound access to energy resources. Oil and gas will meet this demand for the near term. Other minerals and development projects are necessary to create alternative energy and energy efficiency for both the short and longer term. The Alaska state Senate is proposing to hire a $150,000 consultant to explain our high costs and advance solutions. One suggestion: Look to the supply side.
Alaska's energy consumers deserve to know that economic principles balancing supply and demand are at work and resources are not irresponsibly and unnecessarily being withheld from the market. Unfortunately, Ballot Measure 2 has the potential to do just that. Under this initiative, developing our resources would be delayed and could be denied, even if all state and federal permitting rules are followed to the letter.
Ballot Measure 2 establishes an entirely new Alaska coastal zone management program with new powers over projects on state and municipal lands. This new program will be designed and approved by a new 13-member Coastal Policy Board neither elected by citizens nor approved by the Legislature. This board would have the authority to approve requirements beyond state and federal regulations -- and effectively delay or shut down projects by a simple vote of seven of 13 unelected members.
Ballot Measure 2 is 15 pages long -- the longest initiative in Alaska's history -- and contains 18 new statutory provisions. Implementing regulations are to be approved by the new board with staffing by yet another new bureaucracy formed by this initiative: the Division of Coastal and Ocean Management. The cost to the state is in millions of dollars and, most seriously, the delay or loss of new development projects that fuel Alaska's economy.
Ballot Measure 2 is complex and cumbersome, drafted by special interest groups to either thwart development in Alaska or hold it hostage to other political demands. Advocates claim it will simply give voice to local concerns and allow responsible development. This is not true. It will allow special interests to prohibit any project from reaching fruition -- even if a particular coastal district favors a project in its area -- because seven of nine coastal regions will be able to control the management board. This will place too much power over decisions that affect local, state and national energy and resource supplies in a group of unelected board members.
Even worse, not all coastal districts will have a vote; instead, some coastal districts will "share" a seat on this powerful board. Amazingly, half of the residents of the state -- those living in Anchorage and Mat-Su -- will share one seat. It is not surprising that both the Anchorage and Mat-Su assemblies have voted to oppose Ballot Measure 2.
Make no mistake -- Ballot Measure 2 is not the House bill to extend the coastal management program that was approved unanimously last year. That compromise was carefully developed to balance the needs of developers and coastal communities. Frankly, the bill would have been a good place for Ballot Measure 2 writers to start. But they didn't.
Supporters claim the initiative is pro-development. But no industry or trade group responsible for Alaska's resource economy supports the initiative. If Ballot Measure 2 were truly "pro-development," why would development groups all oppose it?
These are the same groups that did support the extension of the existing coastal management program last year. Like these groups, Consumer Energy Alliance Alaska does not oppose coastal management, but this initiative has the potential to become a drastic deviation from any rational application of a coastal zone policy that can cripple energy development in Alaska. This initiative clearly does not benefit either energy consumers or producers.
Our advice for all energy consumers:
Vote no on 2.
Steve Pratt is president of Consumer Energy Alliance Alaska, the Alaska chapter of a national organization dedicated to promoting energy benefits for consumers across the United States.