A statewide survey has found that most Alaskans don’t know what HB77 is — and that those who do, hate it.
HB77 is intended to make mining easier, but critics say it does so at the expense of the public’s ability to comment on mining permits.
The bill creates a faster permitting timeline in part by expanding the discretion of the Department of Natural Resources Commissioner and limiting who can challenge rulings by the commissioner.
That has fisheries advocates concerned.
“If HB77 passes, the commissioner won’t have to deal with pesky Alaskans trying to protect our fisheries, and there will be very little protection left,” Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said, adding that the bill is a “disaster” for those that “believe in our fisheries.”
A poll commissioned by Trout Unlimited and conducted by the Hays Research Group found fewer than 15 percent of Alaskans are aware of the bill. Of that 15 percent, only 23 percent support the bill. Fifty-four percent oppose it — 43 percent of responders said they “strongly oppose” it.
About a third of respondents said they were registered Republicans, 16 percent said Democrats, 32 percent said independent and 15 percent said something else.
HB77 was introduced during the 2013 Legislature and is scheduled for its first hearings on Monday and Wednesday next week.
When asked about the bill Thursday, Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said the bill would “be ready to be passed here in the next couple of weeks.”
The 82 percent of poll respondents who said they were unaware of the bill were offered a description: “House Bill 77 is designed to allow government officials to issue development permits more quickly by taking away some public participation opportunities from Alaskans.” After hearing that description, 10 percent said they support the bill and 68 percent said they oppose it. About 22 percent either refused to answer or said they didn’t know.