Draft Walker climate policy urges Alaska to transition away from fossil fuels

Some visitors to the Mendenhall Glacier on Feb. 17, 2018 stay on the trail over the lake ice, but others venture dangerously close to the glacier’s face with thin ice, open water, and constantly calving bergs. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

The state of Alaska should reduce its use of fossil fuels, increase investment in renewable energy and plan for a global transition away from oil and gas.

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Those are some of the first recommendations from Governor Bill Walker’s climate change task force, which is meeting in Fairbanks today. The 20-person team was appointed by the governor last fall to write a state climate policy.

The first draft of that policy is out and the recommendations run the gamut — from putting a price on carbon, to supporting a more diversified economy, to improving how climate change is taught in schools, to creating an emergency response fund.

Michael LeVine is a task force member and senior Arctic fellow with the environmental group Ocean Conservancy. He said the big takeaway is how widely Alaska will feel the effects of climate change.

“The choices we make about our communities and our economies can’t be cabined into a corner and called ‘climate change issues,’” LeVine said. “They are Alaskan issues. They are issues that affect all of our people, all of our communities and our economy.”

So far, the draft is short on key details. It calls for the state to reduce carbon emissions by 2030, but it doesn’t say by how much. And it doesn’t put a price tag on any of its proposals. Task force members say those numbers will come later.

The document also says that while the state economy will remain dependent on resource development for the immediate future, “these resources are finite and contribute to climate change.” And it declares that it’s “an economic and ethical imperative” for the state to prepare for a worldwide switch from fossil fuels to renewables.

The draft stops short of recommending that the state limit oil development. Instead, it proposes Alaska promote natural gas as a “bridge fuel” and “maximize revenue” from current oil and gas production to help support a transition to renewables.

Team members stress the draft is just the beginning of a conversation. The policy will be revised throughout the year, with opportunities for public input.

Heading into Thursday’s meeting, Sam Schimmel, who at 17 is the youngest member of the task force, said he already had some edits in mind.

“I’m here to make sure the Native youth voice and the youth voice is heard,” Schimmel said. “We need to make sure that we are able to continue to carry out our lives with respect to culture and identity, but we also have to recognize that the world is changing.”

A final climate policy and action plan are due to the governor by September.

Rachel Waldholz covers energy and the environment for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media, KTOO in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Before coming to Anchorage, she spent two years reporting for Raven Radio in Sitka. Rachel studied documentary production at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and her short film, A Confused War won several awards. Her work has appeared on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Marketplace, among other outlets.
rwaldholz (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8432 | About Rachel

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