Questionable Carbon Credits — March ’23 Climate Newsletter

Written by Matt Jackson

March 7, 2023

It’s the March Southeast Alaska Climate Report! And we’re getting right to it with the good, the bad, and the possible solution.

The Good

Regular readers will know that last month the Renewable Energy Fund (REF) went up for consideration before House and Senate committees. Hopefully, you won’t be surprised that the bills to extend the REF flew through both committees! This is very good news! It’s now heading to the House Finance Committee on Thursday, March 9, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 519 — with opportunity for more testimony! 

You can testify by joining the room or by dialing 844-586-9085 and asking for the House Finance Committee. Ask the committee to both extend the program AND fund it at $50 million per year. With the REF moving so quickly, SEACC is now setting our sights on our other top energy priority for this legislature — the Green Bank bill. It still hasn’t been introduced yet, but we have it on good authority that the governor is still planning on introducing a bill that places the Green Bank within the Alaska Housing Finance Authority.

Green Banks have big impacts: nationally each dollar invested in a Green Bank brings in $3.70 of additional spending and investment — all toward projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The feds are investing $27 billion in support for state and local Green Banks around the country, so establishing a state Green Bank in 2023 is crucial to close the funding gap for Alaska’s energy transition. We’ve noticed that our Green Bank petition hasn’t been as popular as the Renewable Energy Fund petition, so I hope you’ll help us change that by signing our Green Bank action today.

Moving on from those successes and long-awaited progress, let’s switch gears to an unexpected development from earlier this year.

Carbon Offset Bills

In early January, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced a pair of carbon credit bills, one concerning geologic storage and the other concerning public land-based offsets. His announcement was vague but what the Governor did make clear is that these bills are simply about making money, and they are most definitely not about climate change.

I actually agree with Dunleavy for once on this part, carbon credits simply do nothing to address climate change. But they can affect land management, and for that reason, SEACC will be closely following House Bill 49 and its companion in the senate, SB 48, which propose to create a state carbon offset program on public lands, which should be of interest to anyone who wants to see more trees left standing on those public lands.

The problem is that Gov. Dunleavy has been explicit that this program will NOT leave more trees left standing. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. The problem with believing that climate change isn’t real, yet still trying to sell carbon credits, is that you’re going to fundamentally misunderstand the whole issue. Gov. Dunleavy appears to be under the delusion that he can sell public forests off to loggers and then also sell carbon offset credits from those same tree stumps. How he thinks he can get away with this is a little mind-boggling. Frankly, I can’t wrap my head around it, but you can try by reading the report he has commissioned.

While SEACC is pretty skeptical about the effectiveness of swapping around imaginary carbon credits to address climate change, we are a big fan of leaving forests standing, plain and simple. And a well-designed voluntary carbon offset program could in fact result in more forests left standing. We’ll still have to nip those carbon emissions at the source later, but given the excitement in the legislature for this potential revenue stream, it seems this bill is likely to pass. 

The good news is a carbon offset program does have the potential to reduce logging on state lands — and that will be good for our fish and wildlife, our freezers, and our climate. I’ve outlined a position paper on how to improve the governor’s bill here, but the gist of it can be boiled down into four points:

  • increase project terms to between 55 and 99 years
  • require consideration of the best possible offset program in forest plans
  • require public comment periods on offset leases
  • define and prohibit leakage in the statute

We’re going to be following the Green Bank bill and the carbon offset bill, along with any other legislative happenings of concern to SEACC, very closely over the remainder of the legislature. 

If there are any issues you think we should be following more closely, I hope you’ll drop me a line. And if you enjoy reading this newsletter, I hope you’ll consider forwarding it to other climate junkies and encouraging them to subscribe at seacc.org/climate-newsletter.

Until next month,

Matt Jackson, Climate Program Manager
matt@seacc.org

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