Gov. Frank Murkowski called for increased oil production, streamlined permitting, and a five-year spending plan beginning with controlled state spending in his first State of the State address to the Legislature.
The complete State of the State address
In his quest to reduce the permitting time for mining, oil extraction and other resource-development projects, Murkowski said he would make the Department of Natural Resources the lead agency for all state permitting.
Murkowski said that through an executive order he would give the department authority over the Alaska Coastal Management Program and permitting by the Habitat Division of the Department of Fish and Game.
"On many occasions, the Habitat Division has been the sole agency opposing and delaying legitimate projects important to the state," Murkowski said Thursday, citing the proposed golf course in North Douglas and the Lake Dorothy hydroelectric project near Juneau.
Environmental organizations said the decision jeopardizes wildlife habitat.
"This action is not streamlining, it is taking the teeth out of regulations created to protect fisheries and game," Aurah Landau with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said in a prepared statement. "It is of concern to many Alaskans, including sportsmen and fishermen."
Excerpts from State of the State address
Five-year plan: "When you receive our (budget), we will ask that you view it within the context of a five-year plan. The first year of the plan focuses primarily on working with you to control the spending side of the fiscal gap."
Gas Pipeline Authority: "This administration will appoint the board and seek appropriations for its initial activities."
Alaska salmon. ... I will be meeting with processors and looking for new markets and investments to see how we can reduce the impacts to coastal fishing communities caused by the closure of the Wards Cove operations."
Mining: "We have begun to turn (unrealized mining potential) around by: eliminating redundant permitting require-
ments, coordinating permits through the large project team concept, and developing infrastructure in our important mining regions."
Timber: "We will be proactive by intervening in litigation brought by environmental groups against federal timber sales. I have directed my attorney general to resume the state's suit against the U.S. Forest Service's 'Roadless Rule.' "
Tourism: "We need a northern route into the 6 million-acre Denali National Park."
Permit streamlining: "The Department of Natural Resources will become the lead agency for all state permitting."
Education: "It will be very difficult to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (federal) law I support the program and will work to achieve it."
But Murkowski said the shift in permitting authority should "substantially reduce the time for the issuance of state permits without impacting substantive environmental requirements."
Murkowski said he would address the fiscal gap by increasing North Slope oil production and asking the state to tighten its belt.
"What is our plan for increasing revenue? In a single word - oil," Murkowski said.
He proposed expanding the drilling window and reducing the time it takes to get permitted to drill. He said his objectives would require statutory and regulatory changes but did not provide details.
The state also will continue to pursue reducing permitting requirements for the Pogo gold mine near Delta Junction and the Kensington gold mine just north of Juneau, Murkowski said.
Attorney General Gregg Renkes was given direction by Murkowski to resume the state's lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service's "roadless rule," which would restrict logging and road-building in more areas of national forests.
"This lawsuit was brought to prevent the Clinton administration from imposing that rule in the Tongass, because it violates the promise in (the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act's) 'No More' clause," Murkowski said. "We will hold the federal government to its promise of no more wilderness in Alaska."
The state also would seek federal funding to complete the environmental impact statement for the Juneau Access project, which has a preferred alternative of building a road from Juneau to Skagway.
Murkowski added that he will work to increase the amount of allowable timber sales and create a new 1 million-acre state forest in Southeast.
Murkowski gave few details on his plans for resolving the subsistence issue, only saying he will work to regain state control of fish and game resources.
Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat whose district includes rural Southeast communities, said Murkowski's vagueness on subsistence was disappointing.
"... (T)wo sentences, I think, was all he had about subsistence, and I couldn't gather with those two sentences where he was going with the subsistence issue," Lincoln said.
House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, said the minority would work with the administration to close the fiscal gap but seemed skeptical about a five-year plan.
"I wish this five-year plan the very best because often five-year plans begin as five-year plans and change into something altogether different," Berkowitz said.
Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat, called a five-year plan presumptuous considering that the governor was elected to a four-year term.
Berkowitz also expressed concerns about comments made by Murkowski about the Alaska Permanent Fund.
"It wouldn't be appropriate if we didn't talk about the permanent fund, and I've got a surprise," Murkowski said.
He said non-Alaskan investors who make millions of dollars for handling the account should return the favor through charitable contributions.
"In addition, I'm asking the permanent fund board to examine our contracts with these non-Alaskan money managers to see what, if anything, can be done to reduce their fees and thereby increase the profits of the permanent fund," Murkowski said.
He said he would ask the permanent fund board to begin a dialogue with major national and international companies in which the fund invests millions of dollars to identify ways to bring jobs to Alaska.
Berkowitz warned that changing how the fund is managed could be risky and that Alaskans have the right to know specifics on what changes will be made.
"When you talk about changing the operational requirements of how we invest the permanent fund you raise the specter of putting the fund at risk," Berkowitz said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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