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Vol. 13, No. 27 Week of July 06, 2008
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

ACMP under scrutiny

State seeks ways to improve program to address issues with 2003 reforms

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

Alaska’s Division of Coastal and Ocean Management has launched a reevaluation of the Alaska Coastal Management Program, or ACMP. The reevaluation represents a response to some issues surrounding changes in ACMP enacted in 2003 and will likely result in further changes to the program, Randy Bates, director of DCOM, told Petroleum News July 2.

“It seemed like the right time to reevaluate and make sure we’ve got the program structured the way we want it,” Bate said.

Under the terms of the 1972 federal Coastal Zone Management Act, all projects in Alaska’s coastal zone require a review for ACMP consistency, to ensure that policies for environmental protection of coastal areas are met.

Multiple agencies

The ACMP process involves several state and federal agencies working with 33 coastal districts around the state to ensure compliance with enforceable coastal policies. In many cases the coastal districts consist of coastal municipalities.

The coastal districts can develop their own coastal management programs for inclusion in the statewide ACMP.

The 2003 changes to ACMP statutes attempted to minimize duplication between state and municipal regulation and to streamline the ACMP process. But some aspects of the changes have resulted in appeals, lawsuits and some level of confusion about how the ACMP is being implemented, Bates said.

A key component of the 2003 changes was a requirement that district enforceable policies cannot duplicate state or federal regulations. In addition, a so-called “DEC carve out” provision removed any permitting done by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation from the ACMP process, thus in effect eliminated the regulation of air, water and land quality from the program.

Districts excluded?

Although the changes significantly reduced duplication and overlap in the permitting roles of the regulating authorities, the changes also left the coastal districts with a sense that they had been all but excluded from the ACMP process.

“The coastal districts want to be able to write policies to effect change to projects … and the way the state has implemented the plan, the districts have very little room to write enforceable policies,” Bates said. “… They (also) want to be able to view what DEC is doing in the context of the project, and right now they’re not able to do that because of the DEC carve out. … ACMP used to coordinate the entirety of a (permitting) project.”

The 2003 changes also required the coastal districts to bring their enforceable policies into compliance with the new statutes and regulations.

But according to a report on the ACMP issued in June by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency that oversees the implementation of the Coastal Zone Management Act, five of the Alaska coastal districts ceased implementing their own coastal plans as a result of the new requirements. And 14 districts, including the North Slope Borough, the Northwest Arctic Borough, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Aleutians East Borough, have yet to complete revisions to their plans.

So how does DCOM intend to address the questions that people have raised about the ACMP?

Comment period

Following a meeting of ACMP stakeholders in June to discuss the reevaluation, DCOM announced on July 1 the start of a public comment period that will last until Aug. 15. During that period, as well as being able to submit comments on the ACMP to the division, members of the public will be able to participate in three scheduled teleconferences.

The division anticipates spending a month compiling and analyzing the comments received, before working with ACMP stakeholders on any proposed changes to statutes and regulations. There will be a comment period on the proposed changes, in time to present the proposals to the governor, prior to submission of a package of requested statute changes to the Alaska State Legislature at the beginning of the 2009 legislative session.

Following any changes to the statutes enacted by the Legislature, DCOM anticipates completing any necessary changes to regulations by about the end of August 2009. The changes would then require federal review and approval, a process that would likely take until around July 2010, Bates said.

Incremental change

However, Bates expects the reevaluation to result in incremental improvements to ACMP, rather than a wholesale re-write. And although the division recognizes the issues associated with ACMP in its current form, Bates is anxious to hear peoples’ views on the strengths of the current program, as well as the program’s weaknesses.

Some of the changes made in 2003 were appropriate and necessary, Bates said. And industries such as mining and oil want a stable regulatory environment, he said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure everybody’s on the same page, understands what the rules are and that everyone participates effectively,” Bates said. “… We’re absolutely interested in evaluating those (2003) changes. … We’re committed to evaluating the need to change to figure out ‘how do we make all legs of this stool stable?’”

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