Tall Mike tap dances carbon policy?

Predicting the actual future from a Governor's State of the State address is often pointless. They are crude indicators at best. As a ceremony, they are at least consistent: handshaking upon entry, some levity, the introduction of noteworthy Alaskans including the love of their life spouses, lots of clapping, people standing awkwardly in the gallery for recognition, then onto the meat and potatoes of the speech - usually, no, definitely always - this is an aspirational monologue containing bits about hope for the future, the promise of our people, the threats we must face and fight, being open for business, having lots of trees and gold and fishes and petroleum, looking ok or bad financially, etcetera, add a personal story here or there and a wrap up with god blessing us all each and everyone and the great state as well amen.

Governor Dunleavy is noteworthy because, in his State of the State speeches, he is very tall. He also looks seriously P.O.d most of the time. When he says he will go after criminals and lock them away for good, you tend to believe he is serious in his intent and means to do it himself physically. As he has warmed to the job of Governor and is looking at a whole new four years, many commentators and lawmakers noted that his State of the State seemed more conciliatory than in the past. But wait! In the middle of his address, he stated he wanted Alaska to be the "most pro-life state" in the nation. Historically, the Governor has wasted a lot of time with controversy, so throwing anti-choice bombs is in line with his former approach. The rumor is that pragmatic strains could be emerging on the third floor. There is certainly plenty of work to do, as the Governor alluded to, from fentanyl overdoses to food security, that will benefit from a working relationship with the lawmaking body.  

One area the Governor highlighted as a policy direction is the exploration of the carbon sequestration credit market for Alaska. We have yet to see the specifics. Generally, a carbon credit represents 1 ton of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. A company can purchase credits to make up for carbon dioxide emissions that come from industrial activities, delivery vehicles, or travel. The State of Alaska currently needs a legal structure in place to participate in existing carbon markets by designating forest, tundra, peat bog, and other lands, and kelp forests as carbon sequestration acreage.  

If he devotes time, energy, and resources to this policy option, he could score a win. The catch is that it might require cooperation with hippy states like California - California's carbon cap-and-trade program is one of the world's largest multi-sectoral emissions trading systems. It will also require a solid ground-game in the legislature to convince skeptical members of the benefit of leaving certain forests un-clearcut, certain wetlands un-mined, etc. It will be a delicate dance, and we have yet to see this Governor step onto the ballroom floor. Perhaps he is a secret Fred Astaire.  

Valuing forests and tundra for their ability to sequester carbon naturally can mean that these green things are afforded more protection. The whole "mechanically capturing carbon from the atmosphere and pumping it into caverns in the earth" is a bit vaguer of a concept. The jury is out because no bill has been introduced, but we will be watching with interest. It is by no means a simple fix or a simple issue. Some of our good friends and allies in the climate fight view the carbon market issue with great skepticism. Other friends like The Nature Conservancy have worked for years to promote the carbon market in Alaska and America. 

The last time the legislature paid heed to carbon sequestration was in 2004 when former Representative Ethan Berkowitz sponsored, and Governor Frank Murkowski signed legislation requiring the state to investigate the issue. Many elections and events transpired after that, causing the issue to fall by the wayside. The recent success of Alaska Native Corporations gaining revenue by committing lands to carbon sequestration has provided some concrete evidence. Of course, there is the whole issue of the planet heating rapidly due to carbon emissions, and some adults in the room better do something soon, or we will all broil, but that is the part not said out loud. It will be a tacit recognition of the fact implicit in the policy action. There is plenty of that in the Dunleavy Administration, from last year's Renewable Portfolio Standard and Green Bank bill to the current carbon discussion.

Many in the legislature and the Governor recognize that renewable energy is critical to addressing high energy prices. The Alaska Center applauds this and encourages bold policy action during this session. We will be hitting the ground running next week in Juneau, meeting with members of the legislature to discuss our top legislative priority this session which also seeks to address high energy costs: Community Solar. Here is the elevator pitch:

The majority of Alaskans support solar power. Net Energy Metering has proven to be extremely popular on the Alaska Railbelt. However, most Alaskans cannot install their own solar panels because they rent rather than own their homes or cannot afford the upfront installation costs. Community Solar allows communities and individuals to come together and purchase shared solar arrays at affordable prices. Community Solar puts the power in the hands of communities and individuals to decide where their energy comes from. 

We will be shopping the concept around, addressing questions, and learning about concerns next week. Stay tuned for legislation shortly. All Alaskans deserve to benefit from solar energy, and we intend to help bring it to them.

See you soon,
The Alaska Center

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