Two bills before the Alaska Legislature would have devastating consequences for conservation if passed. House Bill 77, also known as the “Silencing Alaskans Act” in combination with House Bill 47 is a one-two punch to Alaskans who value protection of Alaska’s most precious assets. In the former bill, citizens lose their voice at the beginning of the process, when changes can be made without litigation. In the latter bill, citizens lose a voice in court once the administrative process is over through burdensome financial requirements. What that means is Alaskans are being cut out of the process from start to finish.
House Bill 77, or the “Silencing Alaskans Act,” proposed by Governor Sean Parnell, passed the House last session and nearly passed in the Senate—thankfully no vote occurred last year because of the outpouring of public opposition. The bill came back this session with cosmetic revisions. The “improved” bill would steamroll the public by:
- eliminating public comment periods for natural resource permits and decisions;
- severely limiting who can challenge permit decisions;
- giving the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner carte blanche to issue general permits with no review process for the specific projects within the permit area; and
- undermining the process allowing individuals and organizations to stand up for salmon streams by asking that water be kept in rivers for salmon and people.
The Silencing Alaskans Act is now dead in the water—at least for this session—due once again to the overwhelming public testimony against the bill. Thanks to all of the Tribes, fishermen, concerned Alaskans, and everyone else across Alaska who spoke out against it. The bill died in the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which heard over six hours of public testimony mostly opposed to the bill and received more than 1,500 letters. The impetus behind the bill may rear its head again, but for now, this is a victory for the public.
House Bill 47 hasn’t received as much media attention or outcry as its sister bill, yet if passed it would hinder any challenge to bad natural resource decisions. The bill, introduced last year, passed in the House this session. This bill would create financial hurdles for Alaskans seeking to protect their fish and water resources. House Bill 47 would allow the court to impose a bond to cover costs and damages to industry in cases where plaintiffs challenge a permit for an industrial project. We think you’d agree that requiring an individual to ante up their assets to post a bond covering costs, including wages and benefits for employees, and payment to contractors and subcontractors of the industrial operation, is onerous and burdensome. And you have to do this just to file your case, before the merits of the case are established and before a judge makes any decision. This is a direct slap in the face to the brave Alaskans willing to stick their necks out for the public interest and take industry and government to court. And this bill could still get passed this session. Contact your legislator to comment on House Bill 47.
We’re sure the Parnell Administration wishes these laws lessening environmental protections and public process had been enacted long ago. We’re glad they weren’t. We hope no administration will ever have that much power over individuals to sell-out Alaska’s natural heritage.
House Bill 77 did not pass the legislature in 2014! Alaskans from all over the state spoke out against this bad bill and the legislators listened!
However House Bill 47 did pass and we are waiting to assess the damage this law will enact on ordinary citizens.