House Bill 77 (HB 77), also known as the Silencing Alaskans Act, is a legislative bill designed by Gov. Sean Parnell andproposed during last year’s legislative session. The Silencing Alaskans Act gives more power to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the making of land management decisions by eliminating various safeguards for the public interest.
There are four disconcerting ways DNR’s authority would be expanded at the expense of Alaskans’ participation in land management decisions, as described by the Alaska Center for the Environment (ACE):
- HB 77 changes the law to authorize DNR to grant “general” permits for essentially any activity on state land.
- It limits public participation in many DNR decisions. Multiple sections of the bill limit who can appeal DNR decisions to the agency or even to a court.
- It authorizes DNR to permanently give away state land to private developers, in the hopes that the development would somehow benefit the state.
- Under HB 77, only federal, state, or local government entities could apply to DNR to reserve water. This would extinguish existing rights and investments held by non-profits and tribal entities on several streams in Alaska where fisheries are in conflict with mineral development and prohibit any similar reservations in the future.
The implications to the greater Denali area, its residents and champions, include:
- The inability to comment on many DNR permit applications, such as the permit application for the NEON Ecological Site in the Stampede Corridor. If HB 77 were to pass, a permit could allow for blanket approval of an activity or development, without considering site specifics.
- Reductions in public notification on Best Interest Findings, such as the Best Interest Finding for the Healy Basin Gas Exploration License.
- Limiting the definition of who can appeal agency decisions, such as DCC and its members, regarding any decision involving lands that we do not own or have a financial stake in.
- Extending temporary water use permits indefinitely – there are many steps in the process of natural gas develop- ment, including permittees’ acquiring temporary water use permits. By indefinitely extending such permits, HB 77 foregoes additional public scrutiny and thus limits DCC from commenting on water use in the greater Denali area.
- Limits water reservations for habitat, wildlife and recreation to agencies only. DCC or its members could no longer apply for water reservations for the water bodies we value, utilize and enjoy.
Last year, the Silencing Alaskans Act passed the Alaska State House and came very close to reaching the Senate floor for final passage. By the efforts of a coalition of 18 state-wide conservation groups and the assistance of the legislative clock running out, HB 77 was put on hold until the 2014 Legislative session. Some fear an almost certain passage this coming January. However, recent hearings, sponsored by Senator Micciche in Soldotna, Homer and Anchorage, garnered widespread public opposition to the bill. The 2014 Legislative Session is set to begin January 21st.
What can we do?
- Call or write our Representative/Senator and tell them you oppose the Silencing Alaskans Act (HB77):
- Senator Lyman Hoffman (District S) State Capitol Room 11 Juneau AK, 99801 Phone: 907-465-4453 Senator.Lyman.Hoffman@akleg.gov
- Representative David Guttenberg (District 38) State Capitol Room 418 Juneau AK, 99801 Phone: 907-465-4457 Representative.David.Guttenberg@akleg.gov
- Tell a friend, neighbor or loved one by email, phone, Facebook or in person. Additionally, urge them to call or write our legislators.
- If you have a Facebook account, follow Alaska Center for the Environment (ACE) as they lead the charge in opposition; share their HB77 posts with friends. https://www.facebook.com/AlaskaCenterfortheEnvironment
- Sign ACE’s petition to oppose HB 77 at http://akcenter.org/. Stay tuned for more calls-to-action in opposition to the Silencing Alaskans Act.