Murkowski shows he wants to protect state's environment

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Alaska's governor is environmentally conscious.

''We can only create new jobs and a growing economy if we are responsible stewards of our environment,'' says Gov. Frank Murkowski.

He's right, and toward that end he has acted. He did the following:

Added 13 new positions in the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Those filling the positions are responsible for improving the state's water and air permitting programs.

DEC's budget now is more appropriate for a state with half a million people. But it writes roughly the same number of permits (180) as Colorado, which has a population of four and a half million people, according to DEC Commissioner Ernesta Ballard. The additional staff people will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the department.

Introduced and signed a bill that expands protection from catastrophic oil spills and implemented new environmental regulations for vessels exceeding 400 gross tons. Cruise ships, state ferries, log freighters, fish packers and private yachts, like Greenpeace's Esperanza that visited Ketchikan earlier this month, are required to have a contingency plan and the manpower and equipment to respond to their own spills. Since April DEC has approved 283 contingency plans. Seapro of Ketchikan is involved.

Initiated overhaul of the state's food safety program. The state has moved from spot inspections at restaurants to mandatory daily management patterned after a NASA program. It's likely a good program to emulate; obviously NASA cannot send contaminated food into space with its astronauts.

Funded studies to increase public safety in rural Alaska. Rural Alaskans use diesel fuel extensively. The federal government is requiring a conversion to ultra low sulfur diesel. The state will come up with a plan for addressing diesel and public health in rural Alaska based on the study.

Funded a study to determine mercury levels in Alaska fish. The results will be used as a marketing tool, which is needed now that reports are surfacing about the mercury levels in seafood in other parts of the nation. This is important because Alaska's five billion pounds of marketed fish represent more than 50 percent of the nation's supply.

Ordered review and redrafting of Alaska's ground water regulations to better protect its quality. About 50 percent of Alaskans and 90 percent of rural Alaskans drink from ground water systems. Solid waste regulations will be revised; mining rules will be reevaluated, and DEC's low-interest municipal loan program is being altered. The loan program provides funds for addressing pollution associated with storm water runoff, landfill leachate and harbor wastes.

All that came about in Gov. Murkowski's first six months in office. Food, water, air it's all being protected, and by a longtime Alaskan.

His actions exemplify how Alaskans feel about the state and its environment. We want it protected; we want to be able to use the air and water in an environmentally responsible manner, and we want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is being done by an environmentally conscientious governor.

Ketchikan Daily News

Aug. 17

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