U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan wanted to know how Alaskan fisheries eligible for disaster relief can receive timely help, and he received answers on Wednesday in a Senate hearing.

But before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, of which Sullivan is a sitting member, heard from state and federal officials, he addressed concerns over the Pebble Mine permitting process.

“I think for the Alaskans, it’s important, it’s critical as the permitting process moves forward that science, not politics, drives the federal government agency decision-making,” he told the committee. “I think [fellow committee member Maria] Senator Cantwell alluded to that. I have certainly encouraged the federal agencies here to get out to Alaska to hear directly from the people in the state, including in Bristol Bay, which they did this summer."

Sullivan continued, “I’m sure you saw, but the EPA and the Department of the Interior recently submitted comments to the Corps’ draft EIS and many of their comments were highly critical of the draft EIS. The burden of proof is now on Pebble and the Corps to substantially address these concerns based on science as required by federal law. This is a high bar and, as I’ve repeatedly said, we can’t trade one resource for another in that region and that’s an important issue I just wanted to mention to our Alaska witnesses.”

Afterward, the committee heard from Rachel Baker, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Chris Oliver, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Oliver said “firmer guidelines” would help streamline relief efforts.

 “I think if we have clearer direction to people that are requesting determination as to what information we need to start that determination, that could save some time,” he said. “If you put strict timelines on us [and] our process, that will force us to get our work done quicker."

The hearing took place shortly after Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross ruled that a fishery resource disaster occurred in the Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod and Chignik sockeye salmon fisheries last year. This paves the way for Congress to appropriate relief funds. 

Baker complemented Oliver’s observation, adding the importance of research toward improving relief efforts.

“We feel like [research] is a fundamental eligible use to help our ability to prevent those fishery disasters and commercial fishery failures in the future,” he said. “It’s really a component part to try to get to the root cause and help us establish fishery management measures that will help us avoid those disasters in the future.”

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