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Bill eases state regulations on military firing ranges

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Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 12:08 am | Updated: 12:09 am, Tue Jan 29, 2013.

JUNEAU — The House Resources Committee on Monday made quick work of a bill that would make sure some state regulations for military firing ranges are no more restrictive than federal rules — a change state officials said could help keep Alaska’s military bases open in the future.

House Bill 36, penned by North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson, would clarify that military training ranges are exempted from state wastewater regulations unless required by federal law. The exemption already exists but could be called into question if federal law changes.

Specifically, the bill would tie exemptions for military-related munitions to the federal Clean Water Act. Current law depends upon legally murky wording, advocates said.

The bill had the endorsements of the U.S. Department of Defense and the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs as well as the Department of Environmental Conservation, all of which had representatives speak to the committee in support.

Alaska Division of Water Director Michelle Bonnet Hale said if the federal government loosens its regulations, the state could end up having the more restrictive rules.

That’s something Major Gen. Thomas Katkus, commissioner of Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said could have a big impact on military decisions.

“When you look at the competition between facilities for deciding to open or close a base, everyone is working really hard to be the best place for the military,” he said. “If you’re looking at what might be a tipping point if it’s a tie, this might be the one negative to put us out of the running. Given the worst-case scenario this could be critically important.”

There was some initial opposition from members who felt the bill could unintentionally remove regulations from private or recreational shooting ranges. But the department clarified that the law will maintain all current state authority over firing ranges of all varieties.

Additionally, the measure has a narrow scope over waste management and disposal at firing ranges. Wetlands permits and other regulations that ensure shooting ranges don’t harm the environment are unaffected by the bill.

“Right now anything that has to be permitted will be permitted, we must follow the Clean Water Act”  Wilson said. “The only thing that we need in there has to do with the military. We’re just clarifying that one sentence, and that won’t change that what the DEC does.”

Without hearing any major opposition, the bill was passed out of committee without objection and, because there’s no cost to the state, will head to the House floor for a vote.

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