Alaska’s draft climate action plan includes carbon tax on page 43

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs alongside the Dalton Highway near the Toolik Field Station on June 9, 2017, in the North Slope Borough. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Governor Bill Walker’s Climate Action Leadership Team has been discussing a robust draft plan to tackle climate change. The draft mentions a number of ways to go about that: from beefing up efforts to monitor ocean acidification to better educating the public on the causes of warming.

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But the state is going to need a way to pay for it all, and the plan addresses that, too: Alaska should consider a carbon tax.

Task force member, Luke Hopkins, lives in a home in Fairbanks built on permafrost. As the climate warms, he says his own foundation is changing.

“I would say that if I put a ball on the floor, one aspect of my house, it would roll a little bit,” Hopkins said.

It’s not a problem Hopkins sees going away. He thinks Alaska needs to update its engineering and design standards to better respond to homes like his on melting permafrost.

The draft climate action plan includes language to do that, but those efforts require more research and that requires money.

“Where’s that going to come from? Hopkins said. “Well, carbon pricing has been used elsewhere in the country and in the world. And so we think we think we ought to look at it.”

At least seven states have proposed carbon pricing legislation. Carbon pricing is basically this broad term for putting a price on CO2 emissions. It includes things like a carbon tax or a cap and trade program.

Alaska’s draft plan recommends the state should think about endorsing a national strategy to put a price on carbon while also taking steps to implement its own carbon tax. The most commonly talked about ways that could work is, as fuel comes out of the ground, oil and gas companies would pay a fee.

And that cash would be used to help fund various energy efficiency projects and more studies to better understand the impacts of climate change — like, how can homeowners like Hopkins stabilize their house as the permafrost thaws?

Hopkins says thinking long term about some form of carbon pricing is a good idea.

“Many of these things have to be looked at in-depth,” Hopkins said. “We’re just putting out what our recommendations would be for the goals that we have.”

Chantal Walsh with the state’s department of natural resources co-chaired a committee with industry representatives. The group has been providing some feedback to the governor’s climate action team.

As for a state or national carbon tax, Walsh says there’s more that needs to happen before they have that discussion.

“It doesn’t make any sense to do individual states by any means,” Walsh said. “And there’s also the question of: does it do any good to be one nation doing this?”

Instead, Walsh thinks scoping out some kind of policy for putting a price on carbon around the world makes the most sense.

In a letter submitted to the climate action team, BP expressed strong reservations about a state carbon pricing program.

Luke Hopkins believes there’s still a lot that could change in the draft plan before it’s submitted to the governor by September.

But something about carbon pricing will likely be in the final version.

“I think it will stick in the plan,” Hopkins said. “I don’t think there’s an overwhelming consensus in the group recently that says we don’t want to put anything about carbon pricing. That’s why it’s in the plan right now.”

The Climate Action Leadership Team will be looking at the draft policy statement on carbon pricing when they go through the plan at their in-person meeting on Thursday in Anchorage.

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