JUNEAU (AP) -- The Senate approved a measure Wednesday that eliminates a citizens' appeal process that oil companies complain can delay drilling projects on the North Slope.
The bill would remove a provision in state law that lets citizens petition for a review of decisions made by a state agency.
Companies proposing to do work in a coastal zone must receive a determination that the project is consistent with the coastal zone management plan for that area.
The Senate approved the measure 15-3. Sens. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage; Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage and Kim Elton, D-Juneau voted against the bill.
Kerry Howard, coastal program coordinator, said the governor's office does not oppose the change. The current provision causes delays and doesn't change the outcome of decisions, Howard said.
''The history has shown that it just hasn't affected any change in a project,'' Howard said.
Since the rules first went into effect in 1999, there have been 18 petitions filed by citizens. All have been dismissed, she said.
After the Division of Governmental Coordination has made its decision, individuals who live in the affected area and who commented when the agency was considering the issue can petition to the Coastal Policy Council.
But in deciding whether to reject the decision, the Coastal Policy Council can only look at whether the petitioners' comments were fairly considered.
A representative with Phillips Alaska Inc., testified before a House committee that the citizens' process has been used to delay five Phillips' projects on the North Slope this winter.
A citizens' petition can drag out a final decision by up to 50 days, which can cause serious problems for companies trying to work during the winter months when ice roads can be used, the official testified.
Ellis moved to reconsider his vote, so the measure could come before the Senate again on Thursday. It then goes to the House to consider changes made in the Senate.
The measure is House Bill 439.
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