We were happy to welcome
Commissioner Jason Brune to our Board meeting on December 6. The Commissioner graciously devoted his day to stay and answer questions about our concerns regarding DEC’s regulatory review process. The DEC announced on October 15 that it is seeking public input on oil spill prevention and response regulations (i.e., rules issued by DEC) and underlying statutes (i.e., laws passed by the Alaska legislature). So far, this is just in the scoping phase, meaning that DEC has not yet proposed any specific changes. After DEC receives public input, it may begin a formal rule-making process to change the existing rules. If so, there will be an opportunity for the public to review and offer comment on the proposed rule changes. Many of our Board members and stakeholders have firsthand experiences and involvement with the
Exxon Valdez oil spill, and are naturally concerned with any potential weakening of Alaska’s oil spill response planning standards which were enacted after the spill.
Commissioner Brune assured the Board that his department was in listening mode and had no desire whatsoever to roll-back environmental protections in place. He is interested in having industry's recommendations for changes to improve the process and will also consider adding regulations or statutes to make them better.
Among the Council’s concerns are the lack of specificity about changes that are under consideration.
The Directors urged DEC to prioritize strengthening protection of the marine environment and adjacent coastal areas through prevention measures, which are proven to be far more effective than response. We remain concerned that DEC’s staffing and budget challenges directly affect its ability to conduct routine activities, much less the additional workload and staffing required to undertake this process. In discussions with industry, the main complaint that we have heard is not that C-plan regulations are a burden, but rather the lack of consistency with which they are applied. To address this concern, CIRCAC encourages the Department to prioritize staff training in Contingency Plan review.
At CIRCAC’s request, t
he Commissioner agreed to
extend the public comment period to March 16, 2020
. The public and RCACs will have another opportunity to comment on any proposed changes. We’re looking forward to working with DEC to ensure environmental protections remain strong and are not diluted. Any statutory changes will most likely happen during the 2021 Legislature, and CIRCAC will be following this process closely throughout the coming year.