Murkowski Blasts “WOTUS” Rule on Senate Floor

Senator: Alaska Facing “Hike Costs” and “Suffocating” Delays

In a speech on the U.S. Senate floor, Senator Lisa Murkowski today outlined the wide range of threats to Alaska posed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s new “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule, which significantly expands the EPA’s ability to regulate more of Alaska’s land and water.

The rule includes provisions that give EPA control over areas within 4,000 feet of a jurisdictional “water”– using a dubious methodology that fails to take into account the on-the-ground reality for states like Alaska.  The rule poses additional obstacles to responsible economic development and private construction in Interior areas like Fairbanks and coastal areas like Juneau.  At the same time, it will significantly hike costs and delay renewable hydropower projects in Southeast Alaska.

Murkowski, who blocked funding for this overreaching rule as Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, articulated the economic threats the flawed rule would pose in countless ways statewide.

 Big Picture Concerns: Increased Costs and Delays

“The E.P.A. claims this rule is a clarification to provide certainty and predictability as to where clean air permits are required. But the view of so many Alaskans and really around the country is that this rule is far beyond a simple clarification because it substantially increases EPA’s regulatory reach. It will subject countless new projects to permitting requirements that will be difficult to satisfy, increasing both costs and certainly increasing project delays. 

“The application that the WOTUS rule will have in Alaska is expansive, it's negative, and it is something that I have described as a show stopper in the past. And none of the changes in the final rule alter that description. If anything, they just serve to reinforce it. The rule really was a show stopper when it was drafted, it remains at least as bad and damaging today.

WOTUS Hurts Small Businesses: Richard Schok of Fairbanks

“Take the community of Fairbanks, where I spent a lot of my time growing up. Fairbanks is in a valley, it's surrounded by pretty large watershed. You have the Tanana River, the Chena River, you have this area in Fairbanks where all of the wetlands in the basin have been declared similarly situated. So what that means is that a landowner will be forced to prove that none of the wetlands in the basin as a whole have a significant physical, chemical or biological connection to either the Tanana or Chena Rivers. Madam President, that's practically an impossible hurdle here.

“There are thousands of acres of wetlands in that basin that are now all effectively subject to jurisdiction under this new rule. Every single person who wants to do any sort of development in Alaska's second largest city is now going to be required to get some form of a permit. So this includes the guy who wants to build a cabin or the small dredge operator who is out in the gold stream valley or the developer out in North Pole who wants to put in a new subdivision. All of them go out and get your permit. The bureaucratic mess that is the 404 permitting process has already held back crucial development within the state and this new rule is only going to make things worse.

“Now, I'd like to go further to the Fairbanks example and to tell you the story of Richard Schok. He's got a company called Flowline. He has been engaged in an ongoing battle with the Corps of Engineers since May 21, 2008. That was the day that Richard submitted a permit application to the Corps, and it was a reapplication for a permit that had been granted back in 2003, and you think okay, well, this is just a reapplication. This is a permit that's been in place now for five years. Should have been an easy matter. Instead, Richard is still fighting the Corps. This many years after, still fighting the Corps for a new permit. Since 2008, the Corps has connected the piece of property at issue to the Tanana River, to the Chena River and something known as Channel B., which is a man-made waterway used for flood control purposes. 

“So the agency's first attempt to establish jurisdiction over his private land which consists of 455 acres outside of Fairbanks was through the Tanana River. They looked at it and after administrative review, it was held there's no connection between the subject land and the Tanana. So you would have thought that we're done with it.  But no, rather than just allow Mr. Schok to develop his private land, the Corps then switched theories on him and said nope, we think that the land is connected to the Chena River instead. But then they went further than that. They settled on a third theory, and that was that the wetlands had a direct connection to Channel B. Channel B is over two miles away from Mr. Schok's property via a small 20 to 50-foot-wide wetland arm since channel B drains into the Chena river. So when you're talking about a significant nexus, how -- how remote could you possibly be?

WOTUS Setting Back, Stopping Hydro Projects

“I also want to speak to how the WOTUS rule impacts the development of hydropower in the state of Alaska. We're looking to find energy solutions, green energy solutions. Hydropower is huge for us. Alaska has nearly 300 prime locations for hydrodevelopment, nearly 200 in southeast Alaska alone, but many of them require the construction of power houses or transmission lines that may rest on wetlands or cross wetlands as defined by the new rule, and that's now a big problem.

“A good example of this is Crater Lake near the community of Cordova. This is a fishing community down in Prince William Sound. Crater Lake is at an elevation of 1,600 feet. It's straight up from the ocean. Cordova has been looking at this small hydro opportunity to advance their energy solutions. It's clean, it's renewable, it's carbon free, there are no fish issues, so this is perfect for them. Prior to WOTUS, it was anticipated that it would be about a 12 to 18-month process to permit this small hydroproject. With the federal nexus WOTUS brings, this project is now likely to end up in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – and what was expected to be about $150,000 to $200,000 in permitting costs is now looking to be closer to a million dollars and take potentially three to five years. Think about it, Madam President. For a small community like Cordova that's trying to find small energy solutions for this fishing community, these additional costs are likely going to kill this small project. And what happens? The community continues providing their power by diesel, when you've got a clean opportunity but that opportunity is going to be suffocated by this rule.”