Alaska communities are gearing up to target an unprecedented level of federal funding dedicated to addressing climate change.
Rural Alaskans are seeing some of the most severe effects of human-caused climate change, and the Alaska Municipal League, headed by Nils Andreassen, is working to prepare those communities to win some of the grant money.
“We’re not competing against each other, we’re competing against 20,000 other cities in America,” Andreassen said. “And if we can help Alaska communities be in a better position to compete, then they can start to address some of the real issues that they’re experiencing in their communities.”
The Alaska Municipal League secured its own half-million dollar grant from the Environmental Protection Agency last month to do this work. That money came from the Inflation Reduction Act, a landmark federal law passed last August with major investments for climate change mitigation.
Over the next three years, the Alaska Municipal League will work with the University of Alaska Anchorage, the state Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Federation of Natives to assess how climate change is affecting health in 25 rural Alaska communities. Then they’ll use that information to develop individual community plans to address climate change.
These are called “climate action plans” and communities often need them to qualify for federal grants.
Many communities in the state don’t have climate action plans, Andreassen said.
“So we pursued this opportunity with that in mind,” he said. “Could we close that gap and make communities more competitive at the national level?”
Climate change affects the health of rural Alaskans in many ways, from threatened subsistence resources to extreme weather, said Micah Hahn, a UAA researcher involved in developing these plans.
“Water and sanitation might be another one that comes up,” Hahn said. “A lot of communities don’t have piped water. And so we’re relying on pipes that are above the ground. And as permafrost is thawing … the pipes break.”
In other words, climate change is jeopardizing Alaskans’ basic access to water in communities experiencing rapid warming, not only for drinking but for things like taking showers, washing hands and flush toilets.
Hahn’s team will compile all of the health risks each community identifies and then outline climate adaptation strategies to address them.
These strategies could include installing air quality monitoring stations in rural communities that lack air quality data, which would allow them to track wildfire smoke particulates and alert the public when it’s unsafe to be outside.
Hahn said going through this assessment process will help communities identify what they’ll need to address climate change on the ground, and then apply for federal grants to fund potential solutions.
“Hopefully, it will help communities get money but also really lower the burden for them in developing these plans,” she said.
Andreassen said they hope to start work on the assessments by the beginning of next year.