Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/13/1995 08:07 AM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HRES - 02/13/95 HJR 27 - EXEMPT ALASKA FROM FEDERAL CLEAN WATER ACT JEFF LOGAN, LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT, REPRESENTATIVE JOE GREEN, PRIME SPONSOR, said in 1989, the National Wetlands Policy Forum recommended a greater role for state and local governments in managing wetlands under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act. He stated since that time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through the state wetlands protection development grants and the Corps of Engineers, through the programmatic general permits, have been working to shift regulatory responsibility back to the states. MR. LOGAN noted that unfortunately, Alaska has not been a beneficiary of this trend. He said for the last several years, Alaskans have been seeking administrative remedies to the problems caused by strict adherence to the federal wetlands policy including the no net loss provision. These efforts have been largely unsuccessful. He pointed out that now with Alaska's congressional delegation in leadership positions, it appears likely that a legislative remedy may be possible. He stated HJR 27 puts the 19th Alaska Legislature on record in support of modifications to the federal wetlands management program. MR. LOGAN told committee members that the sponsor's staff has worked with staff members of the congressional delegation to craft language which can be used as a tool by the congressional delegation as they attempt to amend the federal Clean Water Act to more appropriately meet Alaska's needs. He said HJR 27 is a statement from the 19th Alaska Legislature that Alaskans from Kotzebue to Ketchikan and from Dutch Harbor to Deadhorse are best equipped to decide if, when, and how wetlands should be developed. He noted that committee work on S.49, the legislation introduced by Senator Stevens, is scheduled to begin this week. Committee work on the House version of the Clean Water Act amendments are scheduled to begin in a few weeks. He stressed it is important the legislature make a statement for the record in support of the Congressional delegation's efforts on the state's behalf. Number 067 CARL PORTMAN, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL (RDC), said RDC spearheads the Alaska Wetlands Coalition, an organization formed to work on current wetland regulations. The Coalition brings a community perspective and balance to the debate and helps guide the overall national policy decision on wetlands. He noted the Coalition includes many Alaska communities including Anchorage, Bethel, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Cordova, Barrow, and other communities. He stated over the past several years, the Coalition has sponsored a number of tours of Alaska wetlands, bringing up key congressional aides to see first hand the problems faced in Alaska regarding wetlands regulations. These congressional tours involve key staffers who have jurisdiction over the issue and these visits have taken on an increasing importance now that major legislation is being considered in Washington, D.C. on the issue. He pointed out the visits have helped advance the staff's learning curve on the issue, have brought them up to date on Alaska's issues and have shown them there is a big difference between rural Kansas and rural Alaska. MR. PORTMAN stated RDC and the broad-based membership of the Alaska Wetlands Coalition supports S.49, the Alaska Wetlands Conservation Credit Procedures Act., sponsored by Senator Ted Stevens. RDC believes this landmark legislation will go a long way in resolving many of the problems in Alaska posed by the unworkable no net loss policy. Number 091 KEN FREEMAN, PROJECTS COORDINATOR, RDC, stated the regulation of Alaska's wetlands needs to be tailored to the unique features of the state. He pointed out that approximately 170 million acres in Alaska, nearly half the state, are classified as wetlands, compared with the contiguous U.S. which has 95 million acres. Put another way, Alaska currently has 64 percent of all the wetlands remaining in the U.S. He said Alaska wetlands, wildlife, and migratory waterfowl are not threatened or jeopardized by use of wetlands here. Special protection of coastal areas and many inland areas, such as the entire North Slope, is provided by the Alaska Coastal Management Program which encompasses 34,000 miles of shoreline. He stressed that wildlife is in no way habitat-limited in Alaska. MR. FREEMAN noted that much of Alaska is protected from development and many of its wetlands will never by developed. Much of Alaska is already protected from development as federal and state parks, wildlife refuges, and other conservation units. He pointed out that the options for development are limited, and most industries that utilize Alaska's wetlands, including but not limited to tourism, hunting, commercial and sport fishing, agriculture, recreation, oil and gas, mining and forest products, all have a stake in what happens to the wetlands regulatory climate in Alaska. MR. FREEMAN stated many nondevelopment groups look at the Corps of Engineers statistics to demonstrate that administration of Section 404 is already more flexible in Alaska than the Lower 48. He pointed out what is not taken into consideration is the number of permits withdrawn, how many projects are delayed at tremendous costs, how many permits were accepted only after mitigation took place with other regulatory agencies and was not accounted for in the official process. MR. FREEMAN told committee members the Section 404 program needs to be significantly reformed to address the problems experienced by public and private landowners in Alaska. Alaska will likely never face many of the wetlands problems seen in the contiguous U.S. He said Alaskans have been excellent stewards of the state's land and resources and should not be penalized for its outstanding conservation record. He stressed HJR 27 sends a clear signal to the Administration and lawmakers in Washington, D.C. that Alaska needs a current wetlands regulation tailored to provide flexibility in Alaska wetland permitting commensurate with the vast amount of wetlands in Alaska, the large amount of wetlands set aside in Alaska and the low historic loss of wetlands in Alaska. MR. FREEMAN said RDC supports HJR 27 because it is directed at stimulating policy that is balanced and driven by reason. He stated RDC hopes the House Resources committee will move HJR 27 expeditiously and that the Alaska Legislature passes the resolution. Number 122 REPRESENTATIVE ALAN AUSTERMAN clarified that 45 percent of Alaska's surface area is wetlands and 55 percent is not wetlands. MR. FREEMAN responded that is correct and added that 55 percent is not wetlands or is mountainous regions. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN asked how much of the 45 percent is tied up by federal/state and how much is available for development. MR. FREEMAN said he did not have a specific number in front of him but would be happy to get that information to him. CO-CHAIRMAN JOE GREEN asked if that figure includes permafrost, which is designated by the Corps of Engineers as wetlands. MR. FREEMAN replied permafrost is considered wetlands and is included in the 45 percent figure. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN noted for the record that Representative Nicholia joined the committee. MR. FREEMAN stated 87 percent of the state is in public ownership and 59 percent is under federal jurisdiction. He said there are differing amounts of wetlands set aside. He added that over 57 million acres (the size of Utah) is in wilderness status. He noted that other lands in federal jurisdiction may or may not be open to wetlands regulations depending on the designation. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN noted for the record that Representative Williams had joined the committee. Number 165 REPRESENTATIVE IRENE NICHOLIA referring to line 10, page 1, "prohibit the discharge of dredged and fill material...", stated there is a permitting process with the Corps of Engineers for that. She felt an amendment is needed because the discharge is not totally prohibited. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN said perhaps the words "to restrict the discharge" would be better. REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA made a MOTION to AMEND HJR 27, page 1, line 10, to change the word "prohibit" to the word "restrict". REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN said as currently written, it reads that in 1975 the wetlands regulations were expanded to prohibit the discharge rather than allow. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN agreed. He said currently the Corps of Engineers does allow some very restrictive fill but noted this Whereas refers to 1975 action. Therefore, the whereas is correct as written. REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA felt the statement is misleading because if people do not know there is a permitting process, they will think it is totally prohibited when reading this Whereas. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN asked Representative Nicholia if she had any suggestions for changing the wording. REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA wondered if the resolution could be held until the next meeting. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN responded that timing was such that if the resolution is delayed, the legislature will miss the impact it will have in helping Senator Stevens. REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA WITHDREW her MOTION. REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT OGAN clarified that the statement contained in the Whereas, "the United States Army Corps of Engineers expanded wetlands regulations to prohibit the discharge..." is factual. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN responded in 1975. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN clarified there is a process which allows people, through a permit process, to actually discharge into the wetlands. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN replied that is correct. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN agreed with Representative Nicholia that the Whereas needs to be rewritten. MR. FREEMAN said Senator Stevens bill goes over the 1975 change and he indicated how the expansion of the regulation is designated in that bill. In 1975, a U.S. District Court ordered the Corps of Engineers to publish revised regulations concerning the scope of the Section 404 program; regulations that expanded the scope of the program to include the discharge of dredged and fill material into wetlands. He thought perhaps a suggested change would be "Whereas, in 1975, the United States Army Corps of Engineers expanded wetlands regulations to include the discharge of dredged and fill material into wetlands;". REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA made a MOTION to AMEND HJR 27 page 1, line 10, to eliminate the word "prohibit" and replace it with the word "include". CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN suggested as a FRIENDLY AMENDMENT to the AMENDMENT, to include the word "restricted". He said the discharge is permitted but it is very restrictive and scrutinized. REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA accepted the friendly amendment. REPRESENTATIVE AUSTERMAN asked for the amendment to be read. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN replied it would read, "Whereas, in 1975, the United States Army Corps of Engineers expanded wetlands regulations to include restricted discharge of dredged and fill material into wetlands;" CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if there were any objections. Hearing none, the MOTION PASSED. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN made a MOTION to MOVE HJR 27 AS AMENDED out of committee, with accompanying zero fiscal note, and asked for unanimous consent. CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if there were any objections. Hearing none, the MOTION PASSED.