Point-Counterpoint: Murkowski right to take on wayward EPA

Alaskans should speak up and thank Senator Lisa Murkowski for standing up for Alaskans and challenging Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's ill-informed decision rejecting a road in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The 11-mile emergency access road along the edge of the refuge "would cause irreversible damage not only to the refuge itself, but to the wildlife that depend on it." I don't understand how the 40 miles of World War II road throughout the refuge haven't had an irreversible effect but 11 miles of new road would be environmentally devastating.

Alaskans should also speak up and thank Senator Lisa Murkowski for her steadfast support of fair play and due process. Recently, she signed on to bi-partisan legislation that will reign in a massive overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This bill is designed to re-affirm the EPA's role in permitting decisions under the Clean Water Act and make it clear that their authority operates within the permitting context.

The EPA has sought to expand its role beyond the original intent by the congress in two cases. First, it has retroactively blocked a coal mine in West Virginia four years after the operator had secured its permits and was operating with no environmental issues. Second, the EPA is attempting to pre-emptively stop an Alaska resource development project before there is a plan and any application for permits that would initiate the rigorous National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process.

It is worth emphasizing the rigor, transparency, public involvement, science, and overall requirements prescribed by the NEPA and EIS process to objectively evaluate resource and other projects in Alaska and the U.S. It is hailed by the environmental community as the Magna Carta of U.S. environmental law and promoted as a model for other nations. Yet, in this case, the environmental community, some tribal groups, and the EPA want to undermine it by abandoning the process.

While many want to cast this overstep by the EPA as all about Pebble, it's about much more than that. At its core it is about due process and the rule of law. It has far reaching, precedent setting implications for all development in Alaska and in the US. Lisa Murkowski understands this. She has repeatedly stood up for the needs of Alaskans against Federal overreach and the rights of applicants to have a stable, predictable process to follow.

The current vehicle to try to turn this federal overreach around is called the Vitter-Manchin bill which would re-affirm the permitting process as the appropriate place where EPA exercises its authority under the Clean Water Act, as originally intended by Congress. The bill will not put anyone out of work. It won't change EPA's environmental responsibilities under the Clean Water Act. In fact, it recognizes how the EPA has operated under this statute for over 40 years. All it does is ensure the EPA cannot stop a project before an application is filed and that it cannot yank a permit once it has been obtained.

It brings stability and predictability back to the permitting process. Ironically, it is the stability of U.S. permitting process that attracts investment in development projects across the country. It is attempts by agencies such as we are seeing with the EPA that destabilizes this process.

I represent builders and contractors. We like to work. We like to put people to work. And above all we like fair play. Lisa Murkowski stands up for fair play too. She is not supporting the building of the Pebble Mine. She is supporting fair play and due process - as she always has - so we can have reasoned discussions and decisions about job creating projects. And for that we should thank her. And, there is no environmental harm in that.

John MacKinnon is executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska.