Legislative Session Review
This legislative session was busy one for SEACC, with several bills coming up out of nowhere in addition to our planned work on three statewide conservation priorities. Our testimony and organizing made a key difference on issues that likely would have otherwise passed unchallenged.
To start, transportation issues received a lot of attention statewide this session under Governor Parnell’s Roads to Resources agenda. DOT presented their Southeast Area Transportation Plan scoping report last fall, and in it they presented a strong bias for more roads and fewer ferries. We helped raise the awareness of this and organized Southeast residents to contact their legislators when the issue became the subject of an oversight hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee. With the help of a number of letters submitted by SEACC supporters to committee members, the hearing put DOT on the defensive, and forced them to pull back from their proposals in the Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan, calling them “just concepts”, ideas “for the public to shoot at.” Thanks to those who took action and demanded a fairer analysis of ferries than was present in the Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan.
Unfortunately, Senator Stedman and the Senate Finance Committee held their capital budget proposals close to their chests this year, providing little room for public participation. Two days before the end of the legislature, we learned of several capital budget items written to help fund the construction of new roads or the extensions of existing ones. Road funding included the Kake to Petersburg road, roads on Gravina Island, and extensions near Sitka and Ketchikan. We now have a collection of new tasks in front of us: determine which projects make sense for the region and which do not, and move forward with the appropriate action.
Additionally, SEACC advocated for funding to help collect and analyze baseline water quality data on Southeast’s cross-boundary rivers, including the Unuk, Stikine, and Taku. The capitol budget allocated $37,500 for water collection and analysis on these three rivers to establish water quality baselines against which British Columbian mining impacts can be monitored. Thanks to all the folks in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, and Douglas who contacted their legislators expressing the need for baseline water quality data on our major cross boundary rivers!
HB 168 – the Injunction Security: Industrial Operation Bill gained momentum in 2012. The bill proposed requiring all parties seeking an injunction on an industrial operation when in clear violation of their state-issued permit to first post a security bond to cover lost wages and payments for the life of the court case. In many cases, a security bond would have reached the level of millions of dollars, effectively keeping organizations like SEACC and residents of Alaska out of the courts. SEACC, the Alaska Conservation Alliance, the Alaska Center for the Environment, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, Earthjustice, and Central Council Tlingit Haida all organized against this bill. HB 168 passed the House and reached the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it ultimately died. A hearty thank you is in order to all our members and friends who contacted their legislators to vocalize their concerns with this bill. Your voices were heard, and a bad piece of legislation died as a result! Thank you!
Senate Bill 159 proposed the creation of the Susitna State Forest near Willow and Houston. SEACC had no objections to this bill, as it did not affect lands in Southeast. However, a late amendment to the bill added intent language, urging the governor to acquire for the state lands on the Tongass National Forest. This language encouraged the governor to negotiate or renegotiate with the federal government to transfer the ownership of public lands in Southeast. If negotiations failed, the language urged the governor to outright purchase land from the Tongass National Forest to support the state’s “timber first” agenda. Although SEACC had no objection to the original bill, we had significant objection to the amended version. We testified on record and helped organize the testimonies of Prince of Wales residents, Central Council Tlingit Haida, and the Organized Village of Kake. One legislator recommended moving the bill forward without the Tongass intent language, but the bill sponsor insisted on keeping the amendment. Ultimately, the legislature responded to our concerns to this unnecessary intent language, and the bill stalled out in the House Resources Committee. Thanks to our friends on Prince of Wales Island, in Kake, and at Central Council Tlingit Haida for testifying in front of this committee!
Collective efforts with the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Alaska Conservation Voters, Alaska Center for the Environment, and Alaska Community Action on Toxics helped push SB 27 – the Flame Retardants/Chemicals Bill helped through the Senate and into the House. Prior to the session, we were hopeful for action on the bill, but unsure how much action we’d see. The bill received three total hearings, passing the Senate Floor and eventually stalling out in the House Labor and Commerce Committee. Although the bill did not pass through the House, our efforts were successful in raising the awareness throughout the legislature. A special thanks to our friends in Ketchikan and Juneau for rallying around this toxic issue!
-Daven Hafey, SEACC grassroots organizer