Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a climate change denier, has previewed a new bill for keeping the oil flowing and the trees falling, while supposedly filling Alaska’s coffers with payoffs from polluters. Alaskans won’t be fooled: Dunleavy’s carbon capture and sequestration plans would exacerbate environmental injustices already wreaking havoc in Alaska, and would besides generate a fraction of the income he claims.
Dunleavy is touting two carbon cons: capture and sequestration. Capture involves the industrial process of capturing carbon from concentrated sources before it is emitted and reinjecting it underground. Carbon sequestration refers to monetizing the natural process of carbon-storing trees; polluters keep burning fossil fuels while purchasing credits whose value theoretically comes from preserving forests. Both capture and sequestration, or CCS, are false solutions to climate change that prolong the crisis and mislead Alaskans while wasting state investments.
Carbon capture is a techno-fix touted by the oil industry because it allows them to keep drilling. Dunleavy is proposing to lease land in Cook Inlet for private companies to experiment with injecting carbon into drained oil and gas basins. This unproven technique is known to cause earthquakes and has a high risk of leakage. In fact, the EPA has to date only approved two permits, which have proved less successful than planned. Carbon sequestration projects also require huge amounts of carbon, which means that to be feasible in Cook Inlet, carbon would have to be transported from elsewhere via pipeline. This has already proven dangerous: just four months ago, a CO2 pipeline in rural Mississippi burst near a predominantly Black community, leading to the evacuation of more than 200 people and the hospitalization of 45 residents.
Carbon sequestration, on the other hand, sounds appealing in concept: addressing the climate crisis no doubt requires the rigorous protection of intact ecosystems. The problem with sequestration in practice is that it is rarely additional. In other words, most of the trees that polluters pay to protect were never going to be logged in the first place. Polluters continue adding excess carbon with no real compensation. These programs have also been linked to the violent displacement of Indigenous communities. Furthermore, they are not so lucrative as claimed; Dunleavy has touted hundreds of millions of dollars annually in credits, but the state’s own consultant calculated the much more modest number of $82 million total over 10 years, or less than 0.2% of the state’s budget.
Dunleavy’s own words show that he sees CCS as a swindle. According to a recent article, Dunleavy again denied that humans contribute to climate change but said that we could make money off the people who do. Dunleavy further insists environmentalists should not be encouraged: “For those that think this a displacer (of the oil and gas industry in Alaska), as opposed to an enhancer and an opportunity, they just don’t understand.” Need further proof? Oil companies like Hilcorp are the first to support carbon capture and sequestration.
With Alaska warming four times faster than the global average, we need real solutions to climate change, not dangerous untested technologies and financial scheming. With unprecedented federal investment coming to the state to transition to renewable energy, our leaders have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to modernize and decarbonize Alaska’s energy systems. Alaska leaders should be focusing on maximizing federal dollars by creating a green bank to fund clean energy projects, reinvesting in the renewable energy fund, creating a renewable portfolio standard that will require utilities to transition to renewable energy, and removing barriers to community solar. These are real solutions that will lead Alaska’s just and equitable transition to a carbon-free future.
Rebecca Noblin is the Policy Justice Lead for Native Movement, a grassroots Indigenous-led non-profit for environmental, climate and gender justice.
Ruth Łchav’aya K’isen Miller is a Dena’ina woman based in Anchorage. She has advocated for climate justice and Indigenous rights for over ten years at all levels of governance, and presently offers her professional services through Whirlwind Woman Consulting. She is a proud Advisory Board member for Native Movement.
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