JUNEAU — The state has had success pushing back against an “unprecedented” level of federal overreach in recent years, Alaska’s natural resources commissioner said Tuesday.
Dan Sullivan appeared before the Senate State Affairs Committee with Attorney General Michael Geraghty, for the first in what is expected to be a series of committee hearings on federalism, an issue that committee chairman Fred Dyson has said he wants to delve into.
They said Alaska isn’t the only state to contend that the federal government is overstepping its authority, and it’s not an issue being raised just by Republican administrations.
Gov. Sean Parnell, in his State of the State address last week, said Alaska will stand up for what’s right when a federal agency oversteps its bounds. It’s a theme he’s repeated since taking office.
Sullivan, a former attorney general, said there have been troubling trends in federal decisions affecting Alaska, including long delays in permitting, a lack of state input and examples of “significant” overreach, including the designation of critical habitat for polar bears. A federal judge recently threw out that plan, in what was seen as a victory for the state.
Dyson, R-Eagle River, encouraged the administration in its efforts. “You’re on the side of the angels,” he said.
Geraghty said the Alaska Department of Law has about 10 cases pending that involve situations where the state believes the feds are overreaching. He said outside lawyers are used on Endangered Species Act cases, and the rest are done in-house.
Geraghty couldn’t say how much has been spent on those cases. They include a fight over rules intended to limit pollution from large ships, which the state has said will result in higher freight rates and pricier cruises that will hurt its economy, and a lawsuit requiring the state get federal approval for changes to election rules or plans.
Geraghty said he felt a responsibility, particularly on Endangered Species Act cases, to push back when the state disagrees with federal action. He said once a species is listed, habitat deemed critical for that species is designated, which can result in state lands essentially being federalized.
“We have a responsibility, it seems to me, to fight these fights” and do all the state can, he said.
Sullivan said that, contrary to what many might believe, the state sues as a last resort. He said the state also is involved in public testimony, such as supporting greater oil and gas development on federal lands, working with other states and entities with similar concerns and seeking permitting authority, as the governor has proposed for dredge and fill permits now overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The state also seeks to be a partner, where it can, with the feds, he said.
Parnell recently asked the Interior secretary to include Alaska officials on a panel on an assessment of the 2012 drilling season in the Arctic.