As Alaska’s climate team floats carbon pricing, not everyone jumps on board

The Climate Action Leadership Team met in Anchorage to discuss its recommendations for how Alaska should deal with climate change. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Governor Bill Walker’s Climate Action Leadership Team met Aug. 2 in Anchorage to discuss its draft climate action plan, which recommends Alaska consider a carbon tax — a fee paid by entities that produce or burn fossil fuels, like oil companies, aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

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But the plan is not a consensus document, and not every member of the team agrees that pricing carbon is a good idea.

recently-released draft of the plan states, “since Alaska is a state where massive amounts of carbon-based fuel are taken out of the ground, a carbon tax would be levied on far more carbon-based fuel than Alaskans actually consume themselves. This is a potential advantage of a carbon tax that Alaska has over other states and nations.”

In an interview, Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, who is leading the group, didn’t say a carbon tax is definitely a good idea, but he added that Alaska should study all possible ways to deal with climate change.

“If a carbon pricing mechanism allows that to be responsibly done and does not increase the cost of energy to Alaska’s residents, and is done in a fair and equitable way, then that should be looked at,” Mallott said.

A carbon tax is one of many strategies to deal with climate change included in the 45-page draft plan. It includes other ideas that would need funding, like helping communities plan for climate impacts and scientific research.

Chris Rose of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project is one of the team’s biggest advocates for a carbon tax. Rose argued that in addition to helping reduce planet-warming emissions, a carbon tax could help pay for other work the state needs to do to deal with climate change.

“You can call it a fee or a tax, it doesn’t really matter; you’ve got to put some price on it,” Rose said. “And then you can have revenues here in the state of Alaska, either to develop other state programs, and/or make people whole who already have to pay really high energy prices.”

Not everyone at the meeting agreed.

“I think a carbon tax is a horrible idea,” ex-officio team member Lorali Simon with the Usibelli Coal Mine said, raising concerns about the potential impacts to the economy and jobs.

BP Alaska President Janet Weiss is also a member of the team. In an interview, Weiss noted that BP does think carbon pricing “is a part of the solution, globally,” but she said creating a state-level policy could be “tricky.”

“When it comes to the state-level — what I like about where the Climate Action Leadership Team is going is they talk about advising and suggesting that we get after understanding the appropriate mechanism,” Weiss said. “Because you could set it up in a way that disadvantages Alaska in a global energy industry.”

A carbon tax has been proposed in other states and in Congress. But if Alaska went through with a carbon tax, it would be the first state to do so.

When the climate change action plan is finalized, the team will send its recommendations to Governor Bill Walker for consideration.

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Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.