This year will mark 50 years since Congress passed and enacted the Clean Water Act (CWA) after our nation’s rivers literally caught fire. This disregard of pollution was not unique to the Lower 48 as Alaska fishermen were finding blobs of oil floating in the ocean from passing tankers. While the Clean Water Act isn’t perfect, it provides incredible protections for our waters and strong rights to citizens to protect our waters.
Today, we still have many concerns for our waters and communities in Alaska. Over the last month, we saw a huge diesel spill in Southeast headed into Alaska’s herring spawning grounds, a lawsuit against the state over violations of the CWA in the North Slope Borough, and concerns in Valdez over worker safety and the risk of an oil spill. These are all areas where the state can and must take action to protect Alaska and Alaskans.
Unfortunately, the Governor is not focused on fixing these issues, which are already under the state’s authority, but instead is focused on using Alaska’s limited financial resources to operate (have “primacy over”) another type of permitting in the Clean Water Act – specifically Section 404 which is the permit that addresses wetland and waterway development. Until Alaska can properly manage the permitting processes already in place to ensure clean waters and healthy fish to Alaskans, the state cannot be trusted to manage more of our incredible waters.
Specifically, Inletkeeper has the following concerns for :
- High costs to the state – The Governor has requested a budget of $4.9 million per year and 28 employees to manage this program. However, this is not the full cost to the state (which was previously estimated at $7.9 million dollars per year with 49 full time positions). Neither estimate includes the cost of litigation (including legal staff) or information technology expenses. Currently, the federal government operates this program at no cost to the state.
- Less information or public participation – Currently, the federal government conducts extensive analysis considering the cultural, environmental, and subsistence impacts of a project (particularly for large projects like Pebble Mine, the West Susitna Road, or Donlin Mine). This information is important to understand the full impacts of a project on the economy, communities, and the environment before any damage is done. It is unclear how much research the state would do prior to issuing similar decisions or how much public participation the state would allow.
- Less ability for the public to challenge bad decisions – A citizen (or sovereign tribal government) seeking to challenge a decision by the state would be forced to go through state court. However, Alaska is the only state where the “loser pays” the winner’s fees, so this could have a chilling effect on Alaskan’s ability to stand up for our water and is contrary to the intent of the Clean Water Act.
- Less tribal consultation – Alaska Native Tribes have stewareded Alaska’s lands including peatlands and wetlands from time immemorial. Currently the federal government must conduct government-to-government consultation with Alaska Native Tribes to ensure that tribes are able to weigh in on permits that could impact their citizens. The state claims that its consultation is adequate yet continues to not recognize tribal sovereignty, even going as far as insisting a tribe go through comment periods like organizations.
- Easier to approve development unsupported by Alaskans – Being unsatisfied with outcomes of wildly unpopular projects like Pebble Mine, the administration seems to be trying to circumvent the federal permitting process to approve these projects. Dunleavy continues to work – not for Alaskans – but instead for Outside Industry which will exploit our resources, make millions of dollars, and leave us behind with degraded lands and waters, vulnerable communities, and dead fish.
Call your state representatives! (Look them and ##’s up here!).
Tell them to take 404 primacy out of the state budget.
Or complete the form below which will email your representative!