Following a massive outpouring of public opposition to the Silencing Alaskans Act last week, the state’s largest newspaper ran an editorial recommending that HB 77 must be overhauled or deep-sixed. More than 500 people turned out at three public forums on the proposed legislation. All but one testified against the bill.
A priority for Alaska’s Gov. Sean Parnell, the Silencing Alaskans Act is dubbed as a streamlining effort to make it easier and less bureaucratic for developers to win state permits. But it would do so by virtually cutting off the public’s voice in how these permits get issued.
The bill “invests far too much power in the commissioner of natural resources to allow developers a free hand on state lands without public notice of knowledge,” according to the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) editorial.
“The main issue is protection of salmon habitat. Neither sport nor commercial fishermen will warm to the idea that not only might they have little say in the future of that habitat, but they might not even know if there's a threat to it. Such a law leaves far too much to the discretion of one individual, and leaves Alaska citizens in the dark about what that individual decides. It takes Alaskans out of the process, leaving it to the administration and developers to agree, without public participation, how Alaska lands can be used.
This isn't streamlining. This is an invitation to abuse, and a legal means to first keep Alaskans in the dark, then sharply curtail their right to appeal decisions if and when they learn about them. This is not how a representative democracy works. Nor is this wise management of Alaska's natural resources.”
Media coverage of the hearings in Soldotna, Homer and Anchorage, which Trout Unlimited helped organize, has been strong and favorable to opponents of HB 77. As an example, the Alaska Journal of Commerce ran a guest editorial from third-generation Bristol Bay commercial fisherman Katherine Carscallen who correctly notes that HB 77 eliminates many of the checks and balances that “are a necessary part of open, transparent and productive government.”
“Granting more power to un-elected bureaucrats, and eliminating public processes never serves the interests of the people. So whether you care about fish, clean water, tribal rights, tourism, the fishing industry, or simply a clear and transparent government, please take the time to speak up for your rights, before it is too late: Call your state elected officials before January, and share your concern over HB77. Then ask your friends and family to do the same,” Carscallen writes.
HB 77 passed in the Alaska House of Representatives last year. It’s currently in the Senate Rules committee and is expected to be taken up early in the legislative session that begins in January.
More information about the Silencing Alaskans Act is at www.standforsalmon.org