Sept. 23, 2022
On behalf of the City of Forks, a longtime advocate and litigant associated with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), I am writing to you requesting that the DNR provide a 90-day comment period for any SEPA proposal related to a lease of state trust lands to be entered into carbon offset markets. We have serious concerns about a recent disclosure by DNR staff regarding DNR plans to conduct a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review of Commissioner Franz’s proposal to withdraw 10,000-15,000 acres of state trust lands from revenue generation through sustainable timber management and instead ” lease” them through an unregulated, voluntary carbon offset market.
During the presentation by DNR HQ staff, Duane Emmons, Acting Deputy Supervisor of State Uplands, and affirmed by the Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, there was a clear statement that any carbon offset market entry by the DNR would be subject to on a 14-day SEPA comment period. In addition, DNR HQ clearly stated that it would not undertake any economic analysis, nor volume impact analysis, of this decision and itsimpacts upon the beneficiaries.
This proposed 14-day SEPA comment period is simply unacceptable for a new policy and marketing endeavor by the DNR. Previously, policy changes ranging from HCP amendments to SHC (Sustainable Harvest Calculation) efforts have had a much longer comment period than what the DNR and Commissioner Franz have proposed.
Further, for some entities that may be concerned about this “full steam ahead” approach, their meeting processes make it simply impossible to provide substantive comments within a 14-day time frame. Finally, it is simply impossible for my staff to drop all their other duties to provide substantive comments on the environmental effects of a carbon lease project in the proposed 14-day period.
It seemed fairly apparent to my staff watching the meeting via Zoom, that DNR HQ planned to proceed with this new long-term, undefined, and undisclosed, leasing of state trust lands to a private company with no additional environmental reviews. Nor will DNR HQ and Commissioner Franz be required to obtain Board of Natural Resources approval of these long-term financial undertakings. This planned course of action directly contradicts repeated public commitments by Commissioner Franz that DNR will follow good governance standards, including open and transparent processes that involve the public. It also goes against the requests made by members of the State legislature for a more thorough public engagement and review of this type of long-term undertaking.
There is valid concern that there will be a substantial reduction in revenue the DNR receives from these long-term carbon leases compared to timber sales that will adversely impact trust beneficiaries while undermining DNR’s forest management activities. Without any clear indication of where these 10,000-15,000 acres are going to be located, it is also unknown which beneficiaries will be impacted by this proposal.
I am extremely troubled that the DNR would only provide a 14-day SEPA comment period on such a sweeping policy decision. I ask that the DNR delay its SEPA review until sufficient information about the carbon lease project and the proposed leases has been provided so the public can substantively comment on environmental effects. When and if the DNR does move forward with a SEPA comment period, I request that the public be provided no less than 90 days to analyze information provided by DNR and submit comments.