This year, the Governor’s Office has introduced a number of contentious bills and proposals, including billion dollar giveaways, drastic changes to water regulation and protection and citizen initiative reversals. In the face of these contentious issues, I’ve asked myself “Who is this administration working for? Me? My family and fellow Alaskans?”
To find the answer, it helps to look at Governor Parnell’s previous employers. In the 90s, Parnell was employed as the Director of Government Relations in Alaska by Conoco Phillips. Shortly thereafter, he signed on as a lobbyist with Patton Boggs, the lobby firm that represented Exxon Mobil in the Prince William Sound oil spill litigation and argued in court for nominal compensation to the state of Alaska after the massive spill wreaked havoc on fisheries and the local economy.
The true spirit of democracy and due process does not promote frequent unilateral decision-making. However, the Parnell Administration has displayed that tactic several times in recent months. This year, the governor’s administration threw away five years of public process and two years of legislative review by making a unilateral change in the direction of the Alaska Class Ferry without consulting the Marine Transportation Advisory Board or the public. Last year, the governor’s administration unilaterally changed the mission statement of the Department of Natural Resources, throwing away the words “enhance,” “conserve,” and “future generations.” And this session, the governor’s administration introduced and expedited the controversial Cruise Ship Wastewater Discharge Bill reversing the 2006 citizens’ initiative that required cruise ships to improve their wastewater discharge technology to meet state water quality standards. In all of these instances, the public will was either completely ignored or radically marginalized.
As a young Alaskan inheriting this state, I am especially concerned about the unilateral change at DNR to discard “enhance,” “conserve,” and “future generations” from its mission statement. To see how this change in mission statement could look in application, we need not look further than two of the governor’s bills and the Legislature currently hurrying them forward.
SB26/HB77 is the In-Stream Water Reservations Bill. In-stream water reservations are thoroughly-vetted permits that maintain adequate water flow for salmon spawning habitat. There are over 35 currently held reservations in Alaska. This bill would throw out all of those currently held reservations (without compensation) and cancel all current applications (without compensation). The result: industrial operations would essentially be able to draw unlimited amounts of water from creeks, streams, and rivers without regard for salmon spawning habitat. This program of water reservations—or complete lack thereof—would be administered under DNR, who as of last year apparently no longer prioritizes future generations, including mine.
Additionally, when asked if federally-recognized tribes would be able to apply for in-stream water reservations for traditional and customary use, DNR responded that no they wouldn’t, because “the legalities of what constitutes a Native entity are too complex.” In other words, the state is using its own ineptitude to justify a decision that would benefit outside corporate interests at the expense of the Alaska Natives who call this land home.
Interestingly, committee hearings for this bill have been given a bare minimum 24 hours notice to the public, and have been held twice in the Senate Resources Committee at 5:15 pm, even though the doors to the Capitol Building lock at 5 p.m. Does that sound like the Legislature wants the public to know about this bill?
SB27/HB78 is the Wetlands Handover Bill. It aims to eliminate the Army Corps of Engineers’ role in 404 permitting in Alaska—permitting for dredging, draining, filling, rerouting, or development in wetlands. It would hand over those permitting duties to DNR, the same department who no longer values the responsibility to enhance or conserve in Alaska, nor its future generations.
Just like our founding fathers, I believe in democracy and due process. I believe the government should work for the people and for future generations, not against them. As a young Alaskan inheriting this state, I believe we should demand a more legitimate version of democracy than what we’re observing.
• Torgeson was raised in Wasilla, Alaska. She is currently a UAS student in Juneau.