We Need a Climate Action Fast Track

“The Alaska Climate Change Action Plan Recommendations to the Governor” report was released yesterday, September 26, 2018. This report is the product of nearly a year of deliberation by the Climate Action Leadership Team (CALT), a broad stakeholder group created under the auspices of Administrative Order 298, passed in October of 2017. 

The report contains many solid recommendations for action to mitigate climate change impacts and causes in Alaska. The final report is a testament to process and Alaska stakeholder consensus. It is a product of good intention, and vision. The report carries no legal mandate, and the Climate Action Leadership Team no ability to implement the regulation. Indeed, each member of the CALT is free to lobby policymakers individually for or against specific items in the document. This document marks those items that today in 2018 a majority of specific Alaska stakeholders agree are good ideas.

The report is divided into six separate sections: Communities and Partnerships, Human and Ecosystem Health, Economic Opportunity, Clean Energy, Outreach and Education, and Investment. Each section contains recommendations that, if acted upon swiftly, will help move the needle in the fight against climate change.

The first recommended action is to “Encourage and facilitate a strong network of municipal governments, Alaska Native Tribes, tribal consortia, and Alaska Native Regional and Village Corporations to leverage resources, share knowledge, and maximize efficiencies and purchasing power”, to address climate change impacts.

If we took just this one recommendation and made it a reality – this would be huge. Imagine an annual convention in Alaska attended by all of the municipalities now participating in the Alaska Municipal League, all ANCSA corporations, all tribal consortia and tribes in Alaska gathering to discuss climate change. Imagine annual legislative fly-ins to Juneau and Washington D.C. by this group with the goal of leveraging resources to cooperatively address climate change in Alaska.

This collaborative multi-regional lobby would put us miles ahead of where we are today in our fight against climate change.

The entirety of the report and its recommendations are motivational, from planning and coordination recommendations to a recommendation to “Prepare for and promote a rapid transition to electric vehicles (EV) and lower carbon fuels for transportation; this includes providing the requisite EV charging infrastructure, as well as shared bulk purchasing of EVs” and a recommendation to “Research and develop a plan for a state carbon fee, to include consideration of effective fee levels and ways that a dividend could be applied to consumer cost and renewable energy investments.” The report is full of great ideas.

Each recommendation in the report will take a lot of further work, which will not be without detractors and will likely require financial resources. Most importantly, each of the recommendations will require concerted leadership to accomplish.

The shortcoming of the report and its recommendations is lack of specificity on who is doing what and when. For instance on paragraph states that “AOGCC should conduct a thorough inspection of North Slope and Cook Inlet oil production facilities to identify current sources of fugitive methane and make recommendations to address these”. This is a great recommendation, and it has been made by many people in the past, given the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas. It has been thoroughly ignored by AOGCC. The report would have more strength if it proposed that AOGCC should, in October of 2018, promulgate regulations and penalties for fugitive methane violations.

The process to move big policy forward is messy, so many if not all of the nice recommendations in the report will by necessity be tossed into the sullying sausage maker of the public arena. We know that there is great value in consensus – but we also know we need the legislative process, which is not a beautiful process, to lay down the law of the land on many of these items.

It is concerning that in its emphasis on continued discussion, the report appears to provide some basis for legislative inaction. Recommendation 4.1 states that someone will or should “Produce by 2020 a comprehensive strategy to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with and corresponding to the Climate Policy’s targets and timelines, and responsive to robust analytics.”

Does this mean that the Legislature should wait to pass any climate change-related legislation until after someone or some group produces this report at some point in 2020? While more planning and study is a must, this goal is rather ponderous in that it will definitely arm detractors of climate-related policy efforts in 2019.

With its emphasis on careful study or impacts and benefits of this policy or that policy, from a Renewable Portfolio Standard, to a Carbon pricing mechanism, the report seems to imply that with enough research and discussion Alaskans will agree on the need for a policy change. Perhaps that is partially the case. Yet this report and the CALT process moving into the future should not provide a backstop against legislative efforts to change policy or executive action to change policy – it should hopefully serve to bolster these policy efforts.

How are we to weigh this report and its recommendations against the more dire projections of climate change impacts globally? On balance, this report aspires to prepare for a disaster that is already well upon us. It is far better than no report at all and should make Alaskans feel some sense of pride that their fellows from across the different industries, cultures, and regions, could arrive at a lengthy set of common goals. It is encouraging that the oil and gas industry appears willing to discuss climate change in this very profitable oil province, where ever more exploration and development and harvest of oil and gas is taken as gospel.

Here is one action item from the Climate Action Leadership Team report that should be fast-tracked.  

Action 6.3A: Research and develop a plan for a state carbon fee, to include consideration of effective fee levels and ways that a dividend could be applied to consumer cost and renewable energy investments.

Governor Walker has stated publicly that he will oppose any carbon pricing mechanism that raises the price of energy for Alaskans.  The good news is that a carbon pricing structure can be developed which protects Alaskan consumers through a fee and dividend or similar approach while beginning the transition to widespread renewable energy in Alaska. He can, were he inclined, direct his Department of Law, today, to begin working on this. What is he waiting for?

Louie Flora
Government Affairs Director

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