The Push to Restore Local Input on Resource Decisions
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is amazing how often the golden rule applies to our modern, complicated world. This week it applies to the Parnell Administration who is finally sitting down with coastal communities from across the State to figure out how to strike the proper balance in renewing the Alaska’s Coastal Management Program (ACMP). As many Alaskans know, the Parnell Administration has been highly critical of the federal government’s intrusion into resource development issues, particularly offshore oil development. The Governor wants more say and control over these decisions. Similarly, local communities want a voice in how best to balance responsible development with protection of natural resources. The vehicle for both is the ACMP.
The ACMP is part of a federal land management program that has been in place in Alaska since 1977 aimed at promoting wise use and stewardship of our coastal resources. To lure States into the program, the federal government offered participating states a voice in their permitting process when development or protection measures affected federal lands or waters within their boundaries. In turn, the State of Alaska was required to offer participating municipalities and coastal districts a seat at the permitting table when proposed actions affected state resources within their boundaries. This form of cooperative land management honors the principle that those physically closest to the resource have valuable knowledge to lend in making the best permitting decision. But this needed to be counter-balanced by a mechanism that would not allow ‘national interests’ and ‘uses of state concerns’ to be vetoed by lower jurisdictions. Hence, a ‘trickle-up’ plan approval process was created.
All was working well until Governor Murkowski, driven by hard-core development interests made radical changes to the program in 2003 and 2005. His administration significantly reduced the role of coastal districts and made it very difficult for them to establish meaningful enforceable policies. Alaska quickly went from one of the most locally engaging programs in the Nation to, in the words of North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta, a ‘hollow program’. For the last four years, the Alaska Municipal League and coastal districts across the state have been pushing to restore the ACMP’s to a comparable level of participatory planning and permitting.
Not only did Governor Parnell follow his predecessors in saying ‘no way’ to local governments, he became disengaged in the federal program opting to submit generic comments in support of development. As noted by Rep. Beth Kerttula, “without engagement in the ACMP we have no standing to be involved in federal permits on federal lands and waters, particularly the Outer Continental Shelf which is vitally important to Alaska”. Instead of using the ACMP as a lever for having influence the Parnell Administration was ramping up the interference rhetoric and shutting down a constructive role for local governments in the State’s program. Essentially, he was treating local governments the way he was critical of the federal government treating Alaska’s interests.
Fed up with this treatment, Senators Hoffman and Olsen raised the stakes by making it clear that if the ACMP program lapses and the federal government takes control of the entire program so be it. Learning from the subsistence take over ten years ago, they realized that dealing directly with the federal government on resource issues isn’t so bad after all. Senator Hoffman went one step further and stripped funding for the program from the Governor’s operating budget, eliminating 33 jobs.
These hardball actions have since triggered a long sought after round of negotiations with the Parnell Administration. While the negotiations are still ongoing, there is clear evidence that a compromise is in the works. It now appears possible that there will be a settlement which gets local communities back at the table, but without veto power over state development of coastal resources. Realizing that sometimes it’s harder to work out a deal once you’ve drawn a line in the sand, the Parnell Administration needs to be duly recognized for their substantive engagement in negotiations to restore participatory decision-making with local governments. I only hope they get all the way there in treating local governments as partners just as we in turn desire from the federal government. After four years of no progress, let’s get it done this session.
• Troll has more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.