Fossil fuel interests press their case with Alaska lawmakers

By Kate Troll, Kay Brown - September 27, 2023
USA, Alaska, Natural gas flare from offshore oil drilling rig in Cook Inlet on summer evening

As they’ve done for decades, fossil fuel interests and their allies are denigrating climate science and climate activists to protect and enhance their obscene profits at Alaskans’ expense.

Curbing fossil fuel use and production, and stopping fossil fuel expansion, is critical to solving the climate crisis.

A Sept. 8 United Nations report on the status of efforts to implement the Paris Agreement found the world is not on track to limit global warming, and urged immediate action at all levels of society to increase renewable energy and phase out fossil fuels.

Despite these warnings, some of our elected officials have been sucked into an unfortunate reality distortion. Maybe they have been misinformed, even outright lied to, by industry lobbyists. There’s a history of that. It is well documented that Exxon and other oil and gas companies had long-standing knowledge of the consequences of climate change, but nonetheless campaigned to deceive and cast doubt.

Some of our leaders appear to still be in this fog of doubt. For example, The Alaska LNG project is being touted as a transition step toward increasing renewable energy. Given the intensifying climate crises, the time for natural gas to serve as a bridge or transition fuel has come and gone. In fact, in 2008, the Alaska Conservation Alliance — an umbrella group of 40 Alaskan conservation groups — issued a position paper supporting the gas pipeline in part because, “Alaska’s gas if directed to the United States can be an essential bridge to a secure, clean energy future.” Perhaps 15 years ago the gas pipeline could have filled this role, but not now when we know that new, large LNG projects spew large amounts of methane — a climate super pollutant 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term) As such, a massive LNG project must not happen in this era of climate catastrophes becoming the new normal. And particularly not when a thriving clean energy economy is booming in the U.S., and cleaner and cheaper alternatives already are filling the gap in Asia.

Another misconception is that more oil development will lead to more investment in renewable energy. Not one significant Alaska renewable energy project is being funded by Hilcorp, ExxonMobile or ConocoPhillips. Renewable capacity is increasing globally but is not yet sufficient to meet emission reduction targets. In a stern message to Big Oil, U.N. Secretary António Guterres recently noted, “Last year (2022), the oil and gas industry reaped a record $4 trillion windfall in net income. Yet for every dollar it spends on oil and gas drilling and exploration, only 4 cents went to clean energy and carbon capture — combined.”

As we see here in Alaska, more oil development means higher profit margins for the oil industry, which continues to fight efforts to get a fair share of revenues into state coffers. Senate Bill 114, proposed by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, would close loopholes in Alaska’s oil production and corporate income taxes, an effort the oil industry strongly opposes. And yet, even as ConocoPhillips and other oil companies continue to enjoy massive public subsidies and post record-breaking profits — Hilcorp also has such but discloses much less as a privately held company — they continue to claim that restoring a fairer oil tax system would jeopardize Alaska’s competitiveness and reduce their in-state investments.

As former elected officials in Alaska, we understand that it can be challenging to straddle the political divides, especially for statewide office holders. But we call on our state and federal officials to work together to build a foundation grounded in truth, science and prioritization of the public’s interest in a livable planet.

As a crucial first step, fossil fuel subsidies should be ended and the state’s oil tax adjusted to capture a fair share of revenues from remaining production: Pass SB 114! At the federal level, fossil fuel subsidies should be ended and redirected to clean energy investments.

Although we will have fossil fuel use and production into the future as countries seek to halt and reverse pollutant warming emissions, more aggressive action to stop fossil fuel expansion is needed immediately. As UN Secretary Guterres recently said, “the era of global warming has ended” and “the era of global boiling has arrived.”

Let’s not be the last dinosaurs on the planet clinging to a dirty, dying industry while the world moves on. With Alaska’s wealth of renewable energy resources, our state can move forward as well to a prosperous future.

Kate Troll and Kay Brown both have served as the executive director of the Alaska Conservation Alliance and Conservation Voters.

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