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State officials push back on federal efforts to limit access to state and federal lands for resource development

(Anchorage, AK) – In the past week, officials from the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Law highlighted broad-based concerns from numerous state agencies about federal planning efforts that have the potential to block or limit access to state and federal lands for responsible resource development.  State officials voiced their concerns in a series of letters and technical comments to federal agencies on issues involving North Slope oil and gas development, federal authority over state lands, and timber sales and land management in the Tongass National Forest.

In a June 27 letter addressed to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Natural Resources Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels raised concerns by multiple state agencies that NMFS has not sufficiently consulted with the state on its Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for the Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic.

For example, without meaningful consultation with the state, the SDEIS proposes temporal and spatial closures of state waters – where there are 166 active oil and gas leases – to oil and gas activities. “The restrictions, outcomes, and mitigation measures …. extend beyond the scope and jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), duplicate and contradict existing State lease stipulations and mitigation measures, and display an overreach of federal authorities and regulatory oversight,” according to Fogels’ letter.

In addition, given that the SDEIS only evaluates hypothetical exploration drilling, “it is very hard to understand how this EIS – which is not focused on an actual project – will inform practical decision-making in the future,” Deputy Commissioner Fogels said today.

In a June 28 letter to senior Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials, Alaska’s Attorney General Michael Geraghty and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan described the state’s ongoing concerns and objections to the EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, which is a potential starting point for the EPA to block or limit resource development on state lands throughout Alaska. The agency’s public comment period for the second external review draft of the “Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska” closed on Sunday, June 30. 

In the letter, Geraghty and Sullivan underscored that the state is “troubled by the lack of an explanation from the EPA as to the authority it relies upon for conducting the Assessment” and is concerned that the assessment has ignored meaningful input from the state – which owns and manages most of the watershed under EPA review.  “As is the case with the EPA’s Assessment, when the State’s input is limited or ignored, it leads to a legally and scientifically flawed process and result that we believe are not in the best interest of the State of Alaska and its citizens,” the letter stated.

In a July 1 letter to the supervisor of the Tongass National Forest, Commissioner Sullivan presented the state’s comments on the Five-Year Review of the 2008 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan. The letter underscored how a reduced supply of timber from the national forest has devastated communities, businesses, and families in Southeast Alaska.

“The consequences have been far reaching, particularly for the communities surrounded by the Tongass,” according to the letter, which noted a 7 and 12 percent population decline in the past two decades and a 15 percent decline in school enrollment since 1990. “Two of the last three sawmills have closed their doors since the 2008 Forest Plan was approved due to lack of a steady and dependable supply of timber, ” according to the letter.

Sullivan requested that the national forest supervisor reinstitute the Roadless Rule exemption for the Tongass – as a matter of “fundamental fairness” – and amend the Tongass management plan to require annual timber offerings that at least equal the national forest’s own annual timber demand estimates.

“These letters and supporting documents show the world-class expertise that state agencies bring to the issues of responsible resource development,” said Sullivan. “But they also underscore that on numerous resource development issues across the state, the federal government continues to bring road blocks instead of pathways to Alaska economic opportunities.”

 All three letters were accompanied by the State’s technical comments on the federal planning efforts.

To read the state’s comments to NMFS, go to: http://dnr.alaska.gov/commis/priorities/6_27_13_NMFS_letter.pdf.

To read the state’s comments to EPA, go to: http://dnr.alaska.gov/commis/priorities/6_28_13_EPA_letter.pdf.

To read the state’s comments to the Tongass National Forest, go to: http://dnr.alaska.gov/commis/priorities/7_1_13_Tongass_letter.pdf.

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