Legislature(1995 - 1996)

02/13/1995 08:07 AM RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 HRES - 02/13/95                                                               
 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              
 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                                                                    
 (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            
 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                      
 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              
 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             
 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             
 CO-CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if there were any objections.  Hearing                
 none, the MOTION PASSED.                                                      
 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.                                                      

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