Letter: HB 77 an attack on public process

It appears that the “holidays” are just another impediment for public process in Alaska. Wednesday’s front page article “State backtracks on resource permitting hearings,” informed readers that the public hearings for HB 77 have been canceled because of the approaching holidays and legislative session.

HB 77 (aka, “The Silencing Alaskans Act”) is touted by Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration as a way to improve the permitting process for resource development in Alaska. This “improvement” translates to large-scale interests enjoying a streamlined permitting process, while Alaskan residents, organizations and tribes stand to lose a slew of essential rights. HB 77 would allow the Department of Natural Resources to hand out general permits for resource development without public notices or hearings. This legislation would also strip Alaskan residents, organizations and tribes of the right to reserve water in critical watersheds for subsistence use, habitat protection, or any other benefit. It’s a far-reaching bill, and it has already passed the Alaska Senate during the 2013 session.

Large-scale interests have all the resources necessary to hold the ear of Alaska’s decision makers, and the audacious degradation of the permitting process represented in HB 77 is ample proof of their success. Improving the permitting process should, if anything, seek to heighten the engagement of Alaskan residents, not cut them out. I sincerely doubt that the DNR ever intended on holding public hearings for HB77, and I am offended that Commissioner Ed Fogels thinks that Alaskans will accept the “holidays” as a valid excuse. If the Parnell administration valued public comment, then HB 77 wouldn’t even be on the table. The cancellation of public hearings for HB 77, a bill that is an egregious attack on public process, is a low blow from the Parnell administration — just in time for the holidays.

Elsa Sebastian

Commercial fisherman, Juneau

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