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Why coastal zone initiative, Prop 2, should be defeated

Frank Murkowski
Tony Hopfinger photo

Make no mistake, the Coastal Zone Planning initiative that will appear on this August's Primary Ballot as Proposition 2 is very different from the bill that passed the House 40-0 in the 2011 session of the Legislature. Proposition 2 will do nothing more than add more government and another permitting layer that will delay projects and cost jobs.

As proof -- only 7 out of 60 Alaska legislators supported what will be Proposition 2 when it was proposed as legislation in the 2012 session of the Legislature. Remember --

  • There had been debate on Coastal Zone for two years, so legislators were fully aware of the impact of the differing proposals.
  • The vote in the 2011 session showed that all 40 House members and many from industry were willing to support reasonable coastal zone legislation.
  • Yet, only 7 legislators supported what will be Proposition 2 in the form of legislation -- 6 Democrats and 1 Republican from Homer.

If 53 Republicans and Democrats can agree on something, we should all take a step back and really consider what the initiative that will appear on the primary ballot will do and won't do.

When I came into office in December 2002, I pledged to streamline the Alaska Coastal Management Program because it was not working effectively. Some cases had resulted in mind-boggling delays that cost jobs. For example, it took Keith Koontz 7-1/2 years, which included a lot of litigation, just to get a consistency determination for a trapping cabin.

The specific reforms we made in 2003 were designed to speed up the consistency review process:

  • We consolidated permitting in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for all state permits. Along with the changes we made to the Coastal Zone Program, we passed legislation in 2003 that made DNR the large-project coordinating agency. DNR had already the most permitting authority under Title 38 and had the in-house expertise to represent the state's best interest.
  • Because we moved all permitting coordination to DNR, the Division of Governmental Coordination was no longer necessary, so we dissolved it and placed the Coastal Zone Program into DNR. We moved the Habitat Division to DNR to coordinate habitat issues with the other resource issues that DNR was attempting to balance.
  • We required that enforceable policies meet a uniform set of science-based state standards as determined by DNR, for the specific purpose of achieving uniformity of the Coastal Zone rules throughout the state.
  • Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) permits approved by the state were deemed approved under the Alaska Coastal Management Plan. In other words, if DEC approved a permit, an applicant would not have to take the time to go through the process to obtain the same permit, with potentially more restrictions, from the coastal districts; and
  • No third-party appeals were allowed.

The initiative that will be on the primary ballot as Proposition 2 repeals the 2003 reforms. This means that DEC permits must be obtained twice -- once at the state level and then again at the coastal district level, probably with more restrictions. The initiative will move the Coastal Management Program to the Department of Commerce, so there will be no permit coordination at DNR, just the creation of another agency designed to issue another permit. Coastal District plans and enforceable policies will no longer be based upon uniform standards determined by DNR, but instead by an unelected board.

Proposition 2 provides no state standards to limit the extent of a coastal district. Thus, the coastal zone can extend as far up the drainages that flow to the coast as the district can argue -- if it can get 7 votes on the unelected, unaccountable Council.

Because an initiative may not be amended and corrected as is done with legislation, the initiative process is not the right vehicle for passing complex legislation such as the 15-page Proposition 2. As the attorney general pointed out at page 12 of his Nov. 29, 2011, letter to Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell:

We note the initiative bill is long and complex. In places the [initiative] bill is not clearly drafted and contains a number of typographical errors, inconsistencies, and ambiguities. Also, some provisions raise specific constitutional issues or give rise to constitutional concerns.

The complexities, inconsistencies, and ambiguities will cause litigation, and litigation will cause significant delays in obtaining consistency determinations and cost Alaska jobs.

The initiative is being promoted by government people who want to add more government and more conditions to projects that have been approved by state and federal agencies. More government stands in stark contrast to Alaskans who are saying we already have too much government in our lives.

For all these reasons I urge the defeat of Ballot Proposition 2.

Frank Murkowski was governor of Alaska from 2002 to 2006, its U.S. senator from 1980 to 2002 and chairman of the Senate Energy Committee from 1995 to 2001.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.