Gov. Sean Parnell says he wants to speed and smooth permitting for development projects like mining, roads and oil and gas development in Alaska. House Bill 77 is his proposal to accomplish that.
But HB 77 does a lot more than smooth the way. The bill as passed by the House and under consideration by the Senate:
• Restricts Alaskans' right to object to and challenge development permit decisions;
• Strengthens the authority of the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources to grant permits at his discretion, and to grant temporary permits for water use and other activity;
• Prohibits Alaskans from petitioning to reserve water rights unless the petition is made through a state, local or federal agency. This particularly affects Native and tribal groups trying to reserve water for subsistence and other traditional uses that might hamper or interfere with developments like mining.
Current law allows those "aggrieved" by state permitting or water reservation decisions to object and ask for reconsideration. Under this bill, a person must show that he will be "substantially and adversely" affected before even getting through the door. Further, in some cases appeals wouldn't be allowed unless the appellants had participated in a public hearing or comment period -- whether they would suffer substantial effects or not.
The gist of the bill seems to keep objections to a minimum. HB 77 "smooths the process" in the same way that doing away with trials smooths the criminal justice system. This is really "greasing the skids" for those with political and financial power.
Clear and concise permitting rules are one thing. Most Alaskans favor them, and we oppose nuisance suits and endless litigation. But a law like this -- one that turns fast-track development projects into freight trains without brakes -- prevents Alaskans from weighing in to protect their own property and their access to resources.
This isn't good government, it's special-interest government.
Gov. Parnell and some lawmakers have made a crusade against what they call "federal overreach," meaning too much Uncle Sam in state affairs. But here they are doing the exact same thing, only on the local government level. HB77 is state overreach -- putting the interests of Juneau and Outside companies ahead of the people in local communities.
By all means make permitting clear and timely. But don't cut Alaskans out of the process. Scrap this bill.
BOTTOM LINE: Governor's permitting bill cuts Alaskans out.