In an op-ed piece this week, we hear from former Gov. Frank Murkowski who is urging Alaskans to vote no on Prop 2. This is a measure that many contend would put the vocal chords back in the voices of people living on Alaska’s coasts. Those who argue against it say it’s another layer of bureaucracy that holds up development projects like gold mines, oil fields, gas development, coal fields, building in sensitive tidal zones and projects along those lines.
Murkowski touts the latter opinion. He is against it, citing a case where a trapper’s cabin was questioned under the old system. And, of course, he is. It was Murkowski, and his Chief of Staff Jim Clark, who mastered the plan to get rid of the Coastal Zone Management Program and centralize all decision making power on the Department of Natural Resources.
Murkowski rises from his quiet retirement to fight this ballot measure. “Prop 2 will do nothing more than add more government and another permitting layer that will delay projects and cost jobs,” he writes. “As proof — only seven out of 60 Alaska legislators supported what will be Proposition 2 when it was proposed as legislation in the 2012 session of the Legislature.”
Those seven folks are “six Democrats and one Republican from Homer,” he tells us.
Do you hear his tone of voice when he says “Republican from Homer?”
Maybe we’re sensitive, but we hear it.
In this, like in other matters where it suited the former governor to make up his facts, he is wrong.
House Bill 325, the only measure offered on the topic of implementing a new coastal zone management program, didn’t go to a vote. A hearing was held in March before the House Resource Committee for the purposes of discussion on a bill proposed by Rep. Alan Austerman, a Republican from Kodiak.
Other sponsors on the bill were Neal Foster, a Democrat from Nome. Rep. Paul Seaton, “the Republican from Homer,” happens to co-chair the House Resources Committee. He also is a sponsor on HB 325. Other sponsors included Beth Kertula, a Democrat from Juneau, Peggy Wilson, a Republican from Wrangell, Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat from Anchorage, Reggie Joule, a Democrat from Kotzebue and Bob Heron, a Democrat from Bethel. All are in the House Majority.
These are also representatives from coastal communities.
As explanation for what Austerman’s intent was, the House Journal on HB 325 says this:
“The Coastal Zone Management Program citizens’ initiative signed by about 30,000 voters indicated to him that the legislature should have a conversation about what that meant. His goal is to have a conversation on the bill and that today his intent is to present the bill and the initiative so there is an understanding of what they are. He said he hopes to have conversations at some point in time as to whether the legislature can draft a bill that is acceptable to everyone and that is substantially the same.”
HB 325 never made it out of the House Resources Committee. It was an informational hearing only that was never brought up for a vote.
But Murkowski insists on telling Alaskans, “as proof — only seven out of 60 Alaska legislators supported what will be Proposition 2 when it was proposed as legislation in the 2012 session of the Legislature.”
These were Murkowski’s talking points:
• There had been debate on Coastal Zone for two years, so legislators were fully aware of the impact of the differing proposals.
• The vote in the 2011 session showed that all 40 House members and many from industry were willing to support reasonable coastal zone legislation.
• Yet, only 7 legislators supported what will be Proposition 2 in the form of legislation — 6 Democrats and 1 Republican from Homer.
Any politician, retired or not, will no doubt want to defend his or her policy decisions. But Murkowski does so without apology, though it has been pointed out in numerous disappointed testimony, that the loss of a coastal voice on projects is a bitter loss in the face of mega proposals like Pebble and Chuitna Coal.
Here is Murkowski’s non-apology: “We consolidated permitting in the Department of Natural Resources for all state permits. Along with the changes we made to the Coastal Zone Program, we passed legislation in 2003 that made DNR the large-project coordinating agency. DNR had already the most permitting authority under Title 38 and had the in-house expertise to represent the state’s best interest.
“Because we moved all permitting coordination to DNR, the Division of Governmental Coordination was no longer necessary, so we dissolved it and placed the Coastal Zone Program into DNR. We moved the Habitat Division to DNR to coordinate habitat issues with the other resource issues that DNR was attempting to balance…”
The question now is whether voters can undo what a powerful, unapologetic, non-negotiating former governor has wrought. Shouldn’t it be a question of what is the best solution we can find to bring coastal voices back to the table, since it means so much to us?
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