Knowles signs measure reversing drilling ruling

PHOTO/Courtesy McKinley Air Service
JUNEAU -- Gov. Tony Knowles signed into law June 7 a bill that would undo a unanimous Alaska Supreme Court decision on permitting requirements for oil drilling wastes in Cook Inlet.

The new law also would exempt firing ranges from state waste disposal permitting requirements.

The measure was a response to two separate lawsuits filed by environmental groups. It was sponsored by Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole.

The action on permitting for drilling wastes was in response to a Supreme Court decision handed down May 3. Knowles said that decision could jeopardize oil and gas permits as well as other resource development activities.

The court ruled unanimously that state regulators erred when they decided to allow the discharge of drilling mud and rock cuttings from Forest Oil’s Osprey Platform in Cook Inlet under a general discharge permit issued by the federal government.

The high court ruled that the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Act required a project-specific review.

The lawsuit challenging the state’s action on the Osprey platform was filed by the environmental group Cook Inlet Keeper.

In addition to undoing the court decision, the new law would undercut a lawsuit filed by Cook Inlet Keeper, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the Military Toxics Project and the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council.

The federal lawsuit sought to have the military stop using the 2,500-acre Eagle River Flats firing range at Fort Richardson and clean up unexploded munitions on the range.

Therriault’s bill was introduced late in the session at the request of the military to exempt all active firing ranges from state requirements for a waste disposal permit.

Environmentalists have argued that white phosphorous and other chemicals from ordnance fired at Eagle River flats can cause serious health problems in wildlife and people.

In addition to seeking a state solid waste permit for the Eagle River flats firing range, the groups’ lawsuit seeks to have the firing range brought into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

The law takes effect immediately.

06/16/2002 - 8:00pm