This year’s session of the Alaska State Legislature began Tuesday. As happens just about every year, policies related to the state’s natural resources will figure heavily into the debate. One of the most high-profile bills of the legislative off-season has been House Bill 77, a controversial proposal that proponents say would streamline the permitting process for natural resources projects.
The bill was sponsored by Governor Sean Parnell. It had a pair of well-attended public hearings on the Kenai Peninsula last month in Soldotna and Homer. Those hearings were put together by Senator Peter Micciche.
"Of the hundreds ... of people that attended the meetings, we had one person in favor," said Micciche. "That makes it pretty clear how I feel about it."
The bill passed the House last year and presently sits with the Senate Rules Committee. Micciche says he had a problem with the bill last year and last month’s public hearings only reinforced that feeling. He says the bill would need "substantive" changes before he might support it.
Homer Representative Paul Seaton voted against House Bill 77 last year. He says that many of the issues brought up by members of the public were also brought up in the House Resources Committee, before the bill went to a floor vote.
"The administration was not willing to make any of the changes," he said. "I'm very glad Senator Micciche was able to bring sensibility to the Senate to the issues that were so concerning to our constituents."
Seaton says the basic argument over the bill is the definition of who has a “substantial interest” in a potential project. He says that the way the bill reads right now, that definition would be left up to officials with the Department of Natural Resources.