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The costs of climate change are too high for Alaska to ignore

  • Author: Bill Walker
    | Opinion
  • Updated: January 30
  • Published January 30

A flag flies at the Veterans Memorial on the Park Strip Friday, Jan. 8, 2021 in downtown Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

We can no longer ignore climate change in Alaska. It is not only transforming our landscape and stressing our economy; it’s imperiling lives. The mudslides in Haines last month are just a harbinger of the devastation that warmer, wetter winters could bring to our state.

Many on the left claim we can only solve this problem by handing power to Washington to impose a vast, new climate regime. But as we’ve seen again and again, federal regulation is no solution for Alaska. A far better plan is to pass legislation for a market-based policy that lowers emissions nationwide. That’s how we can fight climate change – and prevent Washington, D.C. bureaucrats from seizing even more control of our state.

We know too well how federal intrusion in Alaska has sometimes stifled business and trammeled our freedoms. Alaskans will recall the ludicrous standoff between two federal agencies that held up for more than a year a bridge that ConocoPhillips needed to access North Slope oil. Then there was the absurd EPA rule that penalized fishermen for washing fish guts off their decks. But perhaps no case captures the absurdity of federal overreach more than John Sturgeon’s costly, multi-year fight to use his hovercraft on the Nation River.

It’s clear that officials thousands of miles away don’t always understand our way of life, nor the reality on the ground in our resource-based state. Their interference has run the gamut from unhelpful to obtuse. In their notorious refusal to greenlight the lifesaving King Cove Road, it has even had tragic consequences. The situation will only get worse if bureaucracies are empowered with more environmental authority.

Compared to regulations, a nationwide carbon fee passed by Congress would work far more quickly to address climate change while keeping the feds at bay. There’s a proposal gaining momentum that centers on such a fee. It’s called carbon dividends, and it would slash U.S. carbon emissions by more than half over the next 15 years while streamlining regulations for businesses. This plan has earned support from businesses and environmentalists alike, including two of Alaska’s largest oil and gas producers: ExxonMobil and Conoco Phillips. This concept rewards good behavior, such as the use of natural gas – a commodity Alaska owns in vast volumes on the North Slope.

A new study highlights this plan’s huge economic advantages over a regulatory approach to lowering emissions. It would deliver an extra $190 billion per year in U.S. economic output, on average, over a scenario that relies on commonly proposed regulations to achieve the same emissions reductions, the study by NERA Economic Consulting found. This additional output translates into substantial benefits for families: By 2036, annual consumption per household is $1,260 higher with carbon dividends than is projected under the regulatory scenario.

The carbon dividends plan is much more effective and efficient because it harnesses the power of markets to gradually transition America to a low-carbon future. Rather than rules and mandates, it uses price signals to incentivize everyone in the economy to lower emissions how they see fit. By contrast, regulations tie businesses’ hands, fuel uncertainty and slow investment decisions. They are simply no match for the scale and speed of the climate challenge.

Unlike regulations, a pricing approach also generates revenue that can be cycled back into the economy. This plan would return all the fee revenue directly back to the American people in quarterly checks. A family of four could receive about $2,000 a year, with the vast majority of low- and middle-income households taking in more in dividends than they pay out in higher energy costs. Just like the Permanent Fund dividend, this plan is a win for Alaska’s hardworking families.

Equally important, Alaska’s oil and gas industry would gain under this approach. To ensure fairness, this plan would apply a similar carbon fee on imports of fuel and goods at the U.S. border – and remove it from exports. Many people don’t realize that Alaska produces oil and gas with far fewer emissions than major basins worldwide. If a carbon fee were applied on all domestic and foreign producers, our fuels would become instantly more competitive in the marketplace.

“Alaska’s going to come out ahead when those emissions are priced into the economy,” Catrina Rorke of the Climate Leadership Council, which promotes the carbon dividends plan, told an audience in Anchorage last year.

Alaska can’t afford to put off action on climate any longer. But let’s be smart about how we address it. The carbon dividends plan offers a way to rapidly cut emissions without inviting more federal intrusion in our state – all while ensuring that our families and oil and gas producers come out ahead. A climate solution doesn’t get better than that.

Bill Walker served as governor of Alaska from 2014 to 2018.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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