OPINION: Alaskans deserve a better AIDEA

As Alaskans continue to see our communities, environment and economy suffer from our state’s reliance on extractive industries, we have watched the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) exacerbate these problems. AIDEA is a public corporation through the state of Alaska that claims a mission “to promote, develop, and advance economic growth and diversification in Alaska by promoting various means of financing and investment.” Instead, AIDEA’s governor-appointed board often prioritizes untenable and unpopular projects, authorizing huge sums of money with no legislative oversight. Some of their most well-known work, such as the West Susitna Access Road, Ambler Access Project and being the highest bidder on oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been rejected by the communities most impacted. The outcry from Alaskans against AIDEA’s use of funds continues to grow, and has led to Rep. Andy Josephson’s introduction of House Bill 271, which would begin to address these problems and reform AIDEA to better serve Alaskans.

At the end of every calendar year, AIDEA’s board of directors votes on the percentage of its annual earnings that will go to the State of Alaska as a dividend. The current statute requires a dividend between 25% and 50%, with complete discretion by the board within that wide range. This past December, the board passed a 37.5% dividend of $6,379,600, down from its 50% 2020 dividend of $17,305,000. Board members verbally cited wanting to invest at least $400 million on current projects, and $20 million to $50 million in future projects as the reasoning for this reduction. The history of AIDEA tells us these projects will not be in the best interest of Alaskans, economically or ecologically. HB 271 would require an annual dividend of at least 50%, made up of the net income of AIDEA’s various funds. This money could be used provide meaningful services for Alaskans and lessen the state’s current fiscal crisis.

AIDEA’s governor-appointed board is able to approve millions of dollars without any legislative approval. Rather than investing in a sustainable, regenerative economy, AIDEA has used its funds to increase our reliance on extractive industries. HB 271 requires that the Legislature approve board members and any issuing of funds over $10 million.

Currently, our communities have no say in how AIDEA’s board shapes Alaska’s environmental and economic future. Public testimony is held at the beginning of their meetings, with start times subject to change at the last minute. When community members offer overwhelmingly negative testimony, it does not seem to have much bearing on AIDEA’s decisions anyway. HB 271 would require the board to respond to public comments before voting, local consent on projects over $10 million and a Regional Resource Advisory Council created for proposed project areas.

AIDEA’s lack of public input, transparency and legislative oversight continues to keep Alaskans at the grip of extractive economies that hold the state to short term thinking. House Bill 271 still needs sponsorship in the Senate, but if passed, would serve as a realistic solution to begin reforming AIDEA. AIDEA can be a critical ally in Alaska’s just transition to a regenerative economy, or they can continue to stand in the way of progress and fund Outside corporations with no intent of supporting Alaska past their extractive interests. Alaskans can email comments on HB 271 to the House State Affairs Committee at House.State.Affairs@akleg.gov.

Andrea Feniger is an Anchorage resident and has been the executive director of Sierra Club Alaska since August 2020.

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