Resource Development Council

From The Executive Director - Jason Brune

Review of 2010 Legislative Session

RDC was quite active in Juneau this session. We testified and provided written comment on a number of bills and tracked hundreds more. Following is an update of how some of the key bills turned out.

HB 36 – Open and Transparent Initiative Act
RDC Position: Support
Passed both the House and the Senate and awaiting Governor Parnell’s signature.

Passage of HB 36 goes a long way to achieving openness and transparency in the initiative process. With the governor’s signature, the source of funding for signature gathering to put initiatives on the ballot will now be disclosed. In addition, a minimum of two public hearings in each of the state judicial districts and one legislative hearing will now transpire to educate the public about the initiative. Signature gatherers will also be required to carry a complete copy of the initiative with them when collecting signatures.

HB 74/SB 4 Alaska Coastal Management Program
RDC Position: Oppose

Did not pass either the House or Senate. However, this is likely to be a major issue next year as the program is scheduled to sunset in July 2011.

RDC’s diverse board of directors, which includes local communities and Native corporations, was nearly unanimously opposed to these bills. We recognize the importance of local input as development projects navigate the permitting system and we understand that under the current system, many of those providing that input feel their concerns are being left unheard. At the same time, RDC industry members must have clear, timely, and streamlined permitting systems. We felt that the changes proposed under these bills would have allowed local input to trump state and federal processes, effectively giving veto power to the coastal districts. We remain committed to working with our community and industry members during the interim to develop a system that is a win-win for all entities.

HB 308 – Oil and Gas Production Tax
RDC Position: Support
Did not pass either the House or Senate.

Despite not passing, similar legislation must be part of the equation in the next legislative session. Oil is the lifeblood of Alaska’s economy and the pipeline is running at one-third its peak flow. It is imperative Alaska has the right tax and royalty policies in place to attract industry investment and sustain the economy. Unfortunately, Alaska appears to be heading in the wrong direction. Capital spending by major oil producers has ebbed and a disproportionate share of spending has been directed to maintenance projects, which do virtually nothing to generate new production but remain important in maintaining the base production. 2010 will bring the number of exploratory and development wells to their lowest levels in a decade on the North Slope, where production is down 80,000 barrels since 2007.

SB 312 – Cruise Ship Head Tax
RDC Position: Support
Passed both the House and the Senate and awaiting Governor Parnell’s signature.

When signed by Governor Parnell, SB 312 will lower the head tax implemented by the cruise ship initiative from $47.50 to $34.50 per person as well as allow for deductions for local head taxes already in place. Passage of this legislation was key to the settlement of the lawsuit brought by the Alaska Cruise Association against the State of Alaska.

HB 162/SB 127 – Southeast Alaska State Forest
RDC Position: Support
Passed both the House and the Senate and awaiting Governor Parnell’s signature.

RDC supported this bill which would establish a new state forest in Southeast Alaska from state lands presently used for timber harvest. The Division of Forestry would be able to manage the state forest for a longterm supply of timber to local processors, and would retain the land in state ownership for multiple use.

SB 284 – Campaign Expenditures
RDC Position: Supported, with removal of ban on contributions from domestic subsidiaries of foreign companies for initiative campaigns.
Passed both the House and the Senate and awaiting Governor Parnell’s signature.

This bill requires disclosure of corporate and labor union contributions to election campaigns and RDC supported its intent of open disclosure and transparency in election campaigns. An early version of this bill attempted to prohibit contributions by domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations to fight ballot initiatives that targeted their industries. This section was
removed through testimony delivered by RDC’s attorney Chuck Dunnagan and myself.

Other bills that RDC supported that passed included the following:
HB 20 – Fisheries Loans for Energy Efficiency
HJR 7 – Urging Congress to Open ANWR to Exploration, Development and Production
HJR 18 – Opposes Designation of ANWR 1002 as Wilderness
HJR 28 – Opposing Restrictions to Waters Around Alaska
HJR 40 – Opposing Critical Habitat for Cook Inlet Beluga Whales
HCR 10 – Alaska’s Right to Submerged Land in Navigable Rivers

Following the session, RDC sent a letter to Governor Parnell asking him to veto a $750,000 appropriation for the Legislative Council to conduct an independent study of the potential large mine development in the Bristol Bay drainage. We argued that funding such a study will set a dangerous precedent for resource development projects across all industries in the state. Alaska’s permitting system is among the most stringent in the world and companies
have invested millions of dollars in this state with the understanding that they will be afforded the opportunity to navigate the rigorous permitting process in a manner that is both fair, and consistent for all. If the Legislative Council were to conduct such a study, it would likely lead to a politically motivated result, and thus mislead the public into questioning the integrity
of the exhaustive permitting process that is already in place. This wouldn’t be so bad if the study focused on the entire permitting process for all resource development projects in the state. However, this study appears to wrongfully target one industry and one specific project--Pebble. Hopefully Governor Parnell will veto this appropriation as well as many other unnecessary expenditures in the ever growing state budgets.

With the end of the legislative session, RDC members will now be asked to support candidates for elected office. I encourage you to look at the voting record of incumbents and ask specific questions of all candidates regarding the aforementioned legislative issues. It’s important to remember that elected officials represent us, and our opinions should be important to them.

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