Support of HB 47 - Injunctive Security: Industrial Operations
February 10, 2014
Representative Wes Keller, Chair
Re: HB 47, Injunctive Security: Industrial Operations
Dear Representative Keller:
The Resource Development Council for Alaska (RDC) is writing in support of HB 47, an Act requiring a party seeking a restraining order, preliminary injunction, or order vacating or staying the operation of a permit affecting an industrial operation to give security in the amount the court considers proper for costs incurred and damages suffered if the industrial operation is wrongfully enjoined or restrained.
Thank you for hearing HB47. RDC is a statewide, non-profit, membership-funded organization founded in 1975. The RDC membership is comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism, and fisheries industries, as well as Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to link these diverse interests together to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.
One of RDC’s top legislative priorities is to support efforts to bring more accountability to the appeals and litigation process for community and resource development projects. HB 47 makes progress in this regard by ensuring opponents to projects have some “skin in the game.”
Under current law plaintiffs have little incentive not to file lawsuits and appeals and seek injunctions to stop development projects. Seeking injunctions costs plaintiffs very little while the project sponsors endure the high costs of uncertainty and delay. The discovery phase in these types of cases can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to the State and project proponents. Even when projects are not enjoined, the uncertainty of litigation can effectively stop progress on projects.
It is not just the project sponsor who is adversely affected by these injunctions. The employees of project sponsors, contractors, and their employees often are burdened with the direct and immediate impacts of a stay on a permit, which causes construction and development to shut down. Often those hurt the most are workers and their families, because when projects are enjoined, workers are often laid off. Under existing law, judges have not required opponents of developing Alaska’s resources to post bonds or other security to cover the economic harm to the project and to the workforce caused by parties seeking injunctions.
HB 47 does not limit the ability of citizens to sue. What it does do is require a bond in those cases where an injunction is requested before the case is adjudicated. HB47 strikes an appropriate balance by removing incentives for filing ideologically based challenges designed simply to delay projects while still preserving the right to bring meritorious challenges.
Examples of ideologically based challenges abound throughout Alaska. Perhaps the timber industry in Southeast Alaska would be in better shape today if a bond had been required before the scores of timber sales had been appealed resulting in stays and injunctions. That industry has been decimated by endless appeals and litigation over federal timber sales. Recent headlines illustrate the impact of more legal challenges that are resulting in further delay of exploratory drilling in the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), drilling that has yet to occur on leases sold in 2008. Litigation in the Arctic OCS is delaying the State’s goal to increase throughput in TAPS through new OCS development. While many of these cases are in federal jurisdiction, litigation in State court is also common.
The ability of project proponents to weather the storm of an unfounded stay of activities varies based on project economics and the strength of the balance sheets of those developing the projects. A worker who loses employment because of a court ordered stay might not have the lasting power to wait out what are often lengthy legal proceedings. HB47 can provide some accountability to mitigate disruption of commerce while protecting the interests of workers engaged in projects that may be subject to ideologically based challenges.
RDC appreciates the Judiciary Committee hearing this bill and encourages the committee to pass this bill from committee as soon as possible.