Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/10/2004 01:39 PM Senate CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 355-WASTE MANAGEMENT/DISPOSAL CHAIR BERT STEDMAN announced SB 355 to be up for consideration and asked Commissioner Ballard to come forward. COMMISSIONER ERNESTA BALLARD, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), explained that the bill doesn't change the department's authority; it simply provides new regulatory tools and improves some definitions. In Administrative Order 202 issued in December 2002, the governor asked the department to review their statutory authorities and current regulatory programs to determine whether improvements could save money and time while achieving the same regulatory effect. SB 355 is the result and is an effort to better protect land and water from waste disposal. The changes have no fiscal impact on DEC. The bill is risk based and allows DEC to use different tools for different risks "so we are saving the most professional and site-specific staff time for the most impacting activities." For less risky activities, she assured the committee that DEC continues to provide protection. She said, "I'm proud to point out that the governor has as aggressive a program for environmental protection as he does for resource development and, in fact, he expects excellence in both." DEC's role is clearly defined and they provide most of the environmental protection for the state and they also fulfill the state's obligation under the federal clean air and water acts. The first change the bill makes is to replace the word "permit" with "prior authorization." Currently DEC has statutory authorization to issue permits to control pollution and this broadens the concept and will allow the use of tools more suited to the different risks that DEC confronts. COMMISSIONER BALLARD noted that the different tool options are identified on the blue handout. The tools include: individual permits, general permits, permits by rule, plan approvals, and integrated permits. Individual permits are issued for large higher risk projects and are site specific. They include activities such as large seafood processors, municipal wastewater discharges, refinery discharges, ballast water treatment discharges, large landfills, oil and gas drilling waste disposal and asbestos monofills. General permits are used for lower risk activities and for a number of similar activities in a geographic area. Examples of such activities include: placer mines, log transfer facilities, storm water discharge, remote camp sewage and solid waste disposal, oil and gas exploration and development and small seafood processors. Permits by rule are used to authorize low risk activity that has the potential for real impact. They require DEC to establish rules to tell the public the kinds of best management practices they believe are appropriate. This tool also provides enforcement authority without requiring an individual relationship with the entity engaged in the activity. Examples of the activities include: rural landfills, residential domestic wastewater systems that discharge to marine waters, coal bed methane exploration, non-jurisdictional wetland fill, construction dewatering, oil and water separators, small animal confinement operations, construction debris landfills, and wood waste monofills. Plan approvals are a prior authorization mechanism for a low risk activity. Examples of this type activity include zero- discharge sewage treatment lagoons, zero-discharge temporary storage of oil and gas drilling waste, and zero-discharge temporary storage for some coal bed methane projects. Integrated waste management permits are for complex facilities and operations that need more than one DEC waste disposal authorization. Mining companies are enthusiastic about these permits. Those likely to use integrated waste management permits include: complex mining operations and major oil and gas development and production projects. The bill expands DEC's authority to require proof that there will be the financial resources available to clean up a waste pile at the end of the life of a project. Finally, the bill calls for definition changes that are important to DEC. Of particular importance is the clarification of the difference between municipal solid waste and other solid waste. "We have hundreds, literally, of small land fills in rural Alaska that we would like to differentiate from other waste generators so that we could use the new permit by rule powers that we would get through this bill to give them clear guidance about what is required in siting and management of their waste facility." 2:25 pm CHAIR STEDMAN asked for the record to show that Senator Lincoln joined the meeting. He then asked Commissioner Ballard to expand on the fees and associated costs. COMMISSIONER BALLARD replied there is no fiscal note. The fees that are currently in place will still pertain and although she isn't projecting any savings, she is hoping the bill will make the department more efficient. SENATOR GARY STEVENS thanked her for stopping by his office then noted that there is a lot more direct marketing by fishermen who sell fresh or headed and gutted product. He questioned whether such activity would fall under a general permit. COMMISSIONER BALLARD said that would require a food-processing permit. Furthermore, she said, "As you know, we have been working hard with that industry to try and offer the same risk- based spectrum of permitting opportunities for people processing seafood so that the individual single boat processor can get a permit and have the protection he needs to sell his fish." SENATOR KIM ELTON referred to the blue sheet and asked what is involved in moving from a general permit to an individual permit or from a permit by rule to a general permit. For example you might start with one application for a residential domestic waste water system that discharges into marine waters, but within five years there might be 30 residences, which could have a large impact on the adjacent marine waters. SIDE B 2:30 pm Another example would be one small fish processor operating in a certain area that is eventually joined by a number of small processors all of which may have a larger impact than a single large processor. "Is there movement between the categories and how do you handle that," he asked. COMMISSIONER BALLARD replied there is movement. She explained that a permit is specific to what comes out the end of the pipe so the permitting regime focuses on the source, the effluent, and the receiving water. And because there are no automatic renewals, DEC reconsiders the circumstances associated with the activity every five years. If the capacity of the receiving water is strained by the discharge then there would be an allocation on a maximum load basis, but you try not to get to that point. As designed, the individual permit tool is used to keep from stressing the receiving water beyond the accommodation point. SENATOR ELTON noted that Section 5 changes the public notification requirements. The previous requirement calls for two notices to be published in a newspaper of general circulation and the proposed change is to publish one notice in a local newspaper with general circulation. Referring to the coal bed methane leases that were let in Homer, he pointed out that the public notice was made in the Kenai newspaper. Although the notice fit the definition and letter of the law, the local residents felt aggrieved because the notice wasn't placed in the local Homer paper. He remarked that the language didn't seem as though it would avoid a similar sort of problem. "We have to trust the judgment of somebody who may or may not understand the local dynamics when they're placing the local advertisement," he said. COMMISSIONER BALLARD said there are several answers to that question. First DEC would like to see more members of the public who are interested in government activities use the Internet. DEC already has the capability to electronically notify large groups of people and they are trying to increase that means of communication and notification. As part of AO 202 DEC is trying to assure that they do not impose additional administrative procedures requirements on themselves. However, "When we are involved in a difficult communication, we generally tend to over communicate not under communicate." Generally they use the Anchorage paper because it is the one in general circulation and people are often interested in DEC issues regardless of where they live in the state. Continuing she said, "Let us get back to you on exactly why that language appears there. I believe it is in response to a general request of the governor's that we have a consistent approach across government that at least sets what the floor for communication will be." But she could assure him that DEC looks at the subject of a communication before they decide on a communication plan. Stressing the importance of using the Internet, she said the DEC web page had been reworded and the broken links fixed. "People can go to our web page, they can click on regulation, they can get pending regulation, it is simple, you can do it anywhere. You can do it from a cabin with a satellite, you can do it with a modem, you can do it anywhere in the state and I feel more comfortable knowing that you don't have to be able to go to a public meeting or to read a newspaper in order to know what is going on at DEC. We're able to reach a much broader audience electronically than we could ever have dreamed of reaching with a single or two box ads in a newspaper." SENATOR ELTON said he appreciates the answer and although he's a policy kind of person, he's unlikely to bookmark a regulatory page and generally, he didn't believe that homeowners would either. He was pleased to hear her say that these were minimum standards but minimum standards were met in Homer and that's become a complex and potentially expensive problem for the state. He said he looks forward to further dialog on ways to use common sense to get beyond the minimum. COMMISSIONER BALLARD responded by telling him that summary fact sheets are on the DEC web page if you don't want to read the regulations. "In this state the challenge of reaching every community is horrendous and I'm very ambitious about electronic communication," she stated conclusively. SENATOR GEORGIANNA LINCOLN asked how landfills would be monitored out in Bush Alaska. COMMISSIONER BALLARD replied that isn't the exact subject of the bill, but they have worked hard to provide rural communities with tools they can afford and will use to site and manage their landfills in the safest way. For that program their goal is to issue permits by rule, which would be a set of best practices guidelines and a risk calculator. The latter is a worksheet for siting and management. DEC's activity will be to promulgate the rules and do field inspections. The current regime requires a permit application, which is an individual specific permit under DEC's solid waste program. There were no further questions asked of Commissioner Ballard. MARILYN CROCKETT, deputy director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association testified via teleconference in support of SB 355. "This legislation is an excellent example of DEC continuing to pursue opportunities to streamline its processes while at the same time ensuring that its assigned responsibility of protecting Alaska's environment is carried out." This bill also gives DEC the authority to administratively extend permits that are due to expire. This is important because it gives the department additional time it may need to go through the renewal process. It gives the department the flexibility to prioritize its limited permitting resources. STEVE BORELL, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association testified via teleconference in support of SB 355. They are particularly pleased with the new authority for DEC to administratively extend permits to deal with the occasional times that it isn't possible for DEC to process a permit renewal prior to the expiration of a permit. RICH HEIG, president of the Counsel of Alaska Procedures and general manager of Greens Creek Mining Company spoke via teleconference in support of SB 355. They appreciate DEC's approach to streamline the permitting process. They concur with the benefits set forth by the commissioner and others who testified. There were no further questions or comments. SENATOR GARY STEVENS made a motion to move SB 355 from committee with the zero fiscal note and individual recommendations. There being no objection, it was so ordered.