Thursday, July 18, 2019

Senate Dems urge Dunleavy to include oil tax reform in special session

In the midst of the worst budget battle in Alaska's history, Senate Democrats delivered a letter urging Governor Dunleavy to put oil tax reform, including Senate Bill 14, on the table for the second special session set to resume this afternoon, July 18th.

The press release states:

Senate Democrats are proposing Governor Dunleavy add Senate Bill 14 to the call, but are also open to other proposals from the Administration to revise Alaska’s oil tax structure to ensure the policy to serve the people’s maximum benefit. Alaska is facing massive budget reductions, loss of services, and an economic recession. Lawmakers have received an unprecedented amount of emails, phone calls, and messages to right the economy and reverse budget reductions to provide stability for the state.   

Alaskans for Oil Tax Credit Repeal/Yes on SB14 has been at the forefront of calling for oil tax reform, including a floor vote on SB14, since the beginning of the 2019 legislative session.  "SB21 has failed Alaskans and set the stage for this so-called fiscal crisis. Eliminating the $1.2 billion oil production tax credit, as SB14 would do, is the most common sense solution to balancing the state's budget that still allows for a full Permanent Fund Dividend while preserving education and public service programs that are vital to Alaska's well-being and future.  We commend the Senate for their courage and initiative", said Ceal Smith, one of the groups organizers.

Sunday, July 7, 2019


In Alaska, the people own the natural resources. Unlike other states, Article 8 of our Constitution requires that those resources, including oil and gas, be used wisely for "the maximum benefit of its people".  Royalties from non-renewable oil and gas sales are collected and part of the earnings redistributed to Alaskans in the form of a Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) according to a specific formula.

In Alaska, the cost of living is quite high.  Many middle and low income earners rely on the annual PFD to cover annual expenses not otherwise covered by other income sources.

In fact the PFD lifts many Alaskans out of poverty.  In 2015, an Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) study found that PFD's helped 25,000 Alaskans avoid poverty.  That's 1 out of every 33 Alaskans. Child poverty rates have grown a staggering 50% since 1990.  The PFD makes life tangibly better for children, rural families,  seniors, the disabled and many others. 

[Check out Senator Bill Wielechowski's excellent talk on the history of the PFD here.]

Last year, "restore our PFD" became the battle cry for Governor Dunleavy's election campaign.  Now his foolhardy and dangerous veto cuts have sparked a justifiable backlash.  In some circles, that backlash is wrongfully aimed at the PFD.  

Neither Dunleavy or GOP members of the legislature want to talk about it, but Big Oil should be the real target.   Contrary to the usual story, they've been stealing from Alaskans, corrupting our politics and dumping the true cost of doing business on us for more than 40 years.  And it's about to get worse.

To start with, the oil and gas industry is taking more and giving less now than at any time in Alaska's history.  This year alone, industry is writing off $1.2 billion in per barrel oil production tax credits, from it's payments due to the state.

Climate warming is driven by greenhouse gases emitted mostly from burning fossil-fuels. This week Alaska shattered every temperature record on the books.  More than 150 wildfires are burning and there's no immediate relief in sight.  These extreme temperatures are accelerating sea ice melt, permafrost thaw and ocean acidification; three dangerous tipping points, that if crossed, could result in run-away climate disruption that, no matter how fast we cut greenhouse emissions, may not be stoppable.   

The cost to Alaskan's of fossil fuel combustion-driven climate disruption; hundreds of coastal communities facing relocation, collapsing fisheries, wildlife, ecosystems, infrastructure, health and safety is incalculable and perhaps subject for another blog.

The point to be made here is this:  Alaskans need to come together to build a statewide bipartisan movement to end fossil fuel subsidies and protect the Permanent Fund Dividend.  While the greed expressed by Dunleavy and his defenders is truly reprehensible, let's not vilify low-mid income families who rely on the PFD to make ends meet and rise out of poverty.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Alaska's State of Emergency: an open letter to the legislature

To members of the Alaska legislature:

Governor Dunleavy’s veto budget cuts are aimed at the heart and soul of Alaska.   Many experts agree, if enacted, they will deal a blow that is not only unconstitutional, but from which the state will likely never recover.  Alaskans across the state are stunned, shocked and mortified by the cruelty and short-sightedness of Dunleavy’s veto cuts.  This is not who we are, and it could not have come at a worse time.   

Some of you may think this is a good thing; that a robust and functioning government and education system is unnecessary to civil society; that the Climate Emergency is not real.  Such thinking does not hold up to the facts.  It’s profoundly irresponsible, dangerous and ignorant.  

One fact that is irrefutable is that climate disruption is accelerating[1],[2],[3].  As members of the Alaska Climate Action Network (AKCAN!), a statewide grassroots organization of more than 1300 Alaskans deeply concerned about climate disruption, we are acutely aware of how vital robust science, research and education programs are to the future survival of our state, nation and planet.  As our nation’s only Arctic state, Alaska is on the front lines of that change and the University of Alaska is at the center of national and global climate change research and education.   The proposed 41% reduction in funding would devastate vital programs, endanger Alaska’s frontline communities and Arctic research in every corner of America and beyond[4].

The Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) is the primary academic center in our nation doing Arctic research, including critical social science research that supports the needs of frontline communities struggling with the rapid and profound effects of climate change; coastal erosion, permafrost thaw, changing sea ice, ocean warming and acidification, increasing risk of infectious diseases, and the destruction of traditional livelihoods and ways of life. Without a dedicated home, research on these life-threatening issues will fragment or cease to exist, leaving Alaskans in the dark about the threats of climate change and science-based solutions and causing untold suffering and death.  And the loss of research would ripple through the entire U.S. Arctic research community and beyond.

The University of Alaska’s International Arctic Research Center (IARC) is among the world’s premier Arctic science institutes, with an unusual breadth of disciplines and ability to conduct interdisciplinary research collaboration between Arctic nations.  Disrupting these collaborative research efforts would fragment the daily connections forged by researchers here and across the global network of scientists studying the Arctic.
The university is responsible, in part, for maintaining four sites that are part of Long-Term Ecological Research program run by the federal government. Those sites provide a continuous look at key pieces of the Arctic ecosystem and the impacts of climate change, including changes to fire season, the disappearance of sea ice, and changes to the base of the ocean food chain that could impact the state’s fisheries. Any interruption or downgrade in monitoring at those sites would hamper our understanding of the changes gripping the region, setting research back by decades and further endangering Arctic communities.  

A thriving University system is vital to a healthy state economy.  According to the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation[5], the University of Alaska system provides $714 million directly and $402 million indirectly to the statewide economy.  Studies show that 68% of two-year graduates and 42% of four-year graduates from University of Alaska remain in the state to meet the workforce needs of Alaska businesses.  University of Alaska-Anchorage alone generated $40.2 million in research dollars in fiscal year 2016.  The loss of these revenue sources and the talented workforce to sustain business could push Alaska into economic collapse.   

There is an easy solution that gets at the duel problems of climate change and the state’s fiscal shortfall: removal of the per barrel oil production tax credit, currently costing Alaskans at least $1.2 billion annually in payments to profitable oil companies.  There is absolutely no justification for subsidizing a thriving oil industry that continues to profit from accelerating climate change harming our state in so many ways.  Adoption of Senate Bill 14 or its equivalent action to remove unnecessary and egregious fossil fuel subsidies, would allow us to balance the budget with full University and education funding while moving our state firmly into a decarbonized future.    

In closing; we implore you to override Dunleavy’s veto cuts, including the proposed 41% cut to the University of Alaska, and use the power of your office to eliminate the existing per barrel oil production tax credit, thus freeing up the funds needed to fulfill State Constitutional requirements to fund education, protect Alaskans from harm and avoid an irreversible descent into economic collapse.   

No less than our future depends on it. 

Update on the AKCAN investigation into Alaska oil and gas emissions

A recent Alaska Institute for Climate & Energy investigation of oil and gas industry emissions revealed that industry is flaring or vent...