The Senate approved a plan Wednesday to take from the federal government the responsibility for permitting projects that discharge industrial wastewater in Alaska waters.
The bill by Gov. Frank Murkowski makes the state responsible for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits now issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The permits cover wastewater discharged from timber, mining and oil and gas projects as well as other industries covered by the federal Clean Water Act.
The measure passed 12-7, with Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, joining with 11 Republicans in support of the bill.
Democrats have argued that the annual $1.5 million cost of running the program is an unnecessary expense for the state and likely will not result in stricter enforcement of water quality standards.
The Democrats, however, offered no amendments to the bill and did not debate the measure on the Senate floor.
"I heard the bill in the resources committee. That's when I had my debate," said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau.
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said the bill would put Alaska in a better position to issue and control its permits. It also will speed up the process, he said.
Murkowski said in February that appeals can put a project on hold for up to three years under the current structure. Under state control, the appeals would not stop a project from moving forward.
The program requires hiring 13 new employees at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Elton said he also opposes a provision in the bill allowing developers to suggest changes to their projects after the public hearing process has ended.
"I think what it does is it certainly allows for a trumping of the public participation," he said. "If one person gets a second bite at the apple, then everyone should get a second bite at the apple."
The bill needs another procedural vote before given final approval from the Senate. A similar bill in the House awaits a hearing in the House Finance Committee.
The bills are House Bill 153 and Senate Bill 110.
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