JUNEAU (AP) -- The Senate voted Friday to spend about $200,000 to study whether the state should take over a federal wastewater permit program.
Alaska is one of only six states that do not issue the federally required pollution permits at the state level, said Tom Chapple of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Municipal sewage plants, seafood plants, mining, oil and gas and other industrial operations must have the permits to operate.
Chapple said there could be advantages to Alaska taking over the program.
''The most obvious thing is it brings decision-making to Alaska rather than Seattle,'' Chapple said. ''It would on its face offer better ability to understand local conditions, local concerns and make decisions that hopefully would be better for the environment and better for the citizens of Alaska.''
However, it's not clear how significant the benefit would be and how much the program would cost the state, Chapple said. The study is intended to answer those questions.
The national pollutant elimination discharge system permits are required by the federal Clean Water Act, and a state program would have to meet federal requirements, Chapple said.
Environmental groups have expressed concerns about the bill.
Sue Schrader of Alaska Conservation Voters said conservationists fear the state won't spend the money to do the program well.
''The reality is now more than ever DEC is running with a skeleton staff,'' Schrader said. ''This is absolutely no time to consider giving DEC this important permitting program.''
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole. Senators approved the bill unanimously Friday with no discussion.
The measure now goes to the House for consideration.
-- The bill is Senate Bill 326.
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