OPINION: We need to pause and dig deeper on Alaska’s Green Bank bill

Climate activists have been talking about our need to diversify Alaska’s economy for years, economists have been for decades, and Indigenous Alaskans have for generations. When we heard about a climate change-denying administration pushing a proposal for a Green Bank in Alaska (SB123/HB170, learn more at bit.ly/AKGreenBank), we were both intrigued and skeptical. With the climate crisis becoming a pervasive part of life for us all, it is easy to get excited about almost any solution offered, especially when the economy will also benefit. It is crucial, however, that we move with vision, working together to build better systems.

We agree with Gov. Mike Dunleavy that leveraging federal funding is essential for Alaska to transition off volatile fossil fuel dependence. We disagree with establishing the “Energy Independence Fund” (i.e. Green Bank) as proposed. The state of Alaska must invest in solutions that incorporate input and impacts to communities, lands and waters, and that are built in collaboration with those communities. A Green Bank could fund solutions needed to address not only the climate crisis but also integrate values long fought for and continually overlooked: tribal sovereignty, community input, government transparency, public accountability and true sustainability.

The governor’s proposal would house the Green Bank in the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), which is notorious for its closed-door processes and complex financial jargon. AIDEA has a history of unethical and economically disastrous projects that have been pursued directly against the will of the communities impacted by them, including the Susitna River Dam, the Ambler Road, an ore terminal in Southeast and oil leases in the Arctic Refuge. AIDEA’s track record of shoddy public process includes blatant disregard and disrespect. For example, AIDEA only gave three days’ notice for their board meeting March 27, 2020, during which Board Chair Dana Pruhs abruptly ended public testimony of people opposing the Ambler Road by saying, “I don’t give a shit.” The AIDEA board went on to approve $35 million for the Ambler Road and deny $2.5 million for Alaska’s blood bank.

We must not forget AIDEA’s past decisions, financial losses, and missed opportunities in our rush to achieve resilient economic independence by establishing a Green Bank. Instead of settling for a greenwashed bank at AIDEA, we encourage the Legislature, community leaders, and economists to develop the caliber of institution Alaskans deserve. One that can receive and allocate the scale of funding our state needs to jumpstart a statewide transition to clean and affordable energy before 2030. We need an institution run by decision-makers who represent diverse sectors, with an emphasis on holistic energy efficiency and the renewable energy sector, and mandated to invest in value driven projects that have local support.

This moment calls for so much more than AIDEA can provide. We cannot use the same tools or make the same mistakes that got us here as we build a better path. We can and must ensure transparent public process, require stakeholder involvement in decision making — specifically with tribal leadership to establish pre-, prior and informed consent, establish policy in which the primary purpose of any project funded is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and mandate legislative approval for expenditures above $5 million. The Green Bank bill needs amending to ensure it will invest in Alaskans who are leading innovative solutions for genuine prosperity and economic stability. The current proposal only gives more power and resources to AIDEA, which lacks the vision and or accountability to fund Alaska’s future.

Testify April 6 at 1 p.m. Alaska time to the House Finance Committee to help shape this vital legislation; you can do so by calling 844-586-9085.

Jessica Girard serves as executive director of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition.

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