A state commissioner on Tuesday tried to allay criticism from Alaska conservation groups and some lawmakers who say proposed changes to the Department of Natural Resources' mission statement indicates a pro-development bent.
The previous statement says the department's mission is to "develop, conserve and enhance natural resources for present and future Alaskans." The new statement removes "conserve" and "enhance," but keeps "develop" intact. It also removes a reference to "future Alaskans."
The language on conservation was pared down because it is already implied in the Alaska Constitution, Dan Sullivan told members of the House Natural Resources Finance Subcommittee.
Also, the state's founding fathers clearly cared about future generations, even though "future Alaskans" doesn't appear in the state constitution, he said.
"It doesn't mean that every one of those (important) concepts needs to be laid out in a department's mission statement," Sullivan said, adding that he's open to opinions on how to improve the statement.
Sullivan was the only one to testify at the hearing. Alaska Conversation Alliance executive director Andy Moderow said afterward that Sullivan missed the mark.
"Just because something is implied doesn't mean it shouldn't be emphasized," he said. "Conservation and development can exist together, and they have for a long time in Alaska. The new mission puts all the focus on development."
Moderow and other conservation leaders denounced the new mission statement in a guest opinion that appeared in several Alaska newspapers over the last week.
But it's not just the wording in the statement that has caused a stir. The process itself has been called into question.
State law allows only the Legislature to set department mission statements, said Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage. But lawmakers haven't made such a change for 10 years, and plenty of departments have gone ahead and made changes during that time period.
"Failure to object doesn't give someone authority to put out anything they want," Gardner said.
Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, said in a memo to lawmakers that a 1970 law explicitly said departments could set priorities how they see fit except where they are limited by "mission statements and desired results issued by the Legislature."
That blatant of a reference, he said, is one of a series of statutes that call into question how DNR changed its mission statement and may call into question other departments that have taken similar actions.
"The Department of Law is on shaky ground if they take the approach (defending DNR) they seem to be suggesting," he said Tuesday.
Gardner said Sullivan says he didn't know of the rule when he started using the new mission statement a few months ago.
By AUSTIN BAIRD