Gov. Tony Knowles wants to spend $4.8 million for 30 new employees to keep a closer watch on the oil industry's environmental and safety work and to speed the permitting processes.
The governor's ''Oil Safety and Development Initiative'' reflects, in principle, his policy of partnering with the industry. He made clear he didn't want to play a ''gotcha'' game with the industry, but rather work on design, repairs and procedures so there will be fewer problems.
Fewer problems is a fair common goal. As the governor pointed out, with drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge still at issue and good prospects for a natural gas pipeline, it's vital to prove that the industry and Alaska can ''do it right.''
There's a more important principle than partnering at work, however.
Alaska has both the right and duty to safeguard its environment and enforce the safety of workplaces with review and inspections that satisfy the state, not just the industry. This neither precludes partnering nor calls for needless regulations. The principle does call for the state to take an active role in ensuring environmental protection and safety and to recognize that while the state and oil industry share a common interest in continued profit and safety of oil production and transportation, their goals do not always coincide.
''It's a constructive tension,'' said Michele Brown, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation. Her department would gain 13 positions with the governor's proposal, reinforcements that would be assigned to work in the field -- including one on full-time duty at the North Slope.
''We're spending all our time in the office doing permits based on models,'' she said. DEC relies mainly on self-reporting by the industry and hasn't had the money, time or people to audit that work or see what is and isn't working in the field.
Effective, commonsense regulation is not an impediment to business; it's a way to guarantee Alaska will remain open for good business, to guarantee a strong economy, the state's revenue and a clean environment. Putting more state inspectors in the field to spot, solve and prevent problems is a necessary investment for all the right reasons.
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