Resource Development Council

Sullivan outlines concerns with wetlands rule

By U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan

Alaska is a state that understands and loves its water. We boast 43,000 miles of coastline, and millions of lakes. More than 43 percent of our state’s surface area is composed of wetlands — which accounts for 65 percent of the all the wetlands in the nation. It’s in our back yards, and we take care of it. In fact, we have some of the cleanest waterways in the world.

The federal government, however, doesn’t trust our state and its people to take care of our own resources, even though our environmental standards are among the strictest in the world and our waters among the cleanest. They want to assert authority over even more water and activities on adjacent lands by bypassing Congress and imposing rules that would have a devastating eff ect on Alaska’s economy.

Already, a huge percentage of Alaskans’ waters are under federal control. In fact, a whopping 63 percent of the nation’s jurisdictional waters are in Alaska, meaning those who are doing business on or near those waters have to wrangle with the federal government to get permits. And as many who are doing business in Alaska can attest, having to deal with the federal government is time consuming and expensive, which can serve as a disincentive to doing business in the state.

But if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has its way and enacts yet another rule, this one called the Waters of the United States Rule, it appears the EPA’s jurisdiction will increase significantly. As of now, the Clean Water Act gives the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers authority over navigable waters and some wetlands. However, the rule the EPA is proposing, informed by dubious studies, says virtually all water — including potholes, ditches, seasonal streams, puddles, and ponds — could be connected to major waterways and is therefore under EPA jurisdiction.

If the rule is promulgated as proposed, it could mean many Alaskans could be subject to having to get a permit from the EPA to dig ditches in their backyards. It would mean a farmer might have to get a permit to plow new land. It would mean harbors, roads, weed and pesticide control, and mining could now fall under a more rigorous federal permitting process. To make matters worse, little consultation was done with those entities in Alaska that will be most aff ected by this rule.

This is one of many issues involving federal overreach I’m fi ghting against in the Senate, and it’s why I was proud to join a bipartisan group of senators on April 30 to introduce legislation that mandates the EPA to withdraw its rule and reissue a new proposal that takes into account feedback from stakeholders and states before the end of the Obama administration.

I also held field hearings in early April in Anchorage and Fairbanks on the rule.

Nationwide, 22 states have called for it to be withdrawn, while 11 have asked for it to be revised. More than 300 trade groups and associations from across the country — including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders, and the National Mining Association — are also fighting it.

Here at home, the Kodiak Island Borough, Sealaska Corporation, the Council of Alaska Producers, Aleutians East Borough, the North Slope Borough, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, to name a few, are all against the rule as proposed.

Most of these groups and states are saying the same thing: localities and states, not the federal government, are best equipped to deal with water in their own areas.

Commenting on the rule, Sara Taylor, the Executive Director of Alaska’s Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Federal Areas, wrote, “the people who care and know the most about the water should be in charge of its care. Those people are the ones who drink it, swim in it and fish in it.”

ASRC and the Inupiat Community wrote the rule would “straitjacket the development of natural resources on Alaska’s North Slope.” The Alaska Miners Association said the rule would have a negative effect on the mining industry and “virtually any other economic development project” in Alaska.

Rick Rogers, the Executive Director of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, said this: “Alaskans must continue to have access to our valuable and traditional resources. The responsible development of these resources creates jobs in communities throughout Alaska, many of which have few other jobs available. Many of these communities will disappear if overly burdensome and unnecessary regulations are added to existing and new projects.”

That’s what I fear the rule would do and that’s why I’m fighting every day to ensure that the federal government doesn’t take away our way of life, our jobs, and our resources.

Senator Dan Sullivan is Alaska’s junior U.S. Senator. He took offi ce in January 2015 and is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Return to newsletter headlines