Lawmakers approve carbon-offset bill in hopes the state can profit

The Alaska Legislature has approved a measure that would set up a system for leasing state forested lands to businesses and investors that could profit by preserving the land and selling “credits” to others who need or want to offset their direct or indirect carbon emissions.

The carbon-offset credits bill would allow leases of up to 55 years, with payments made to the state by businesses and other entities seeking to preserve tracts of land for their capacity to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The measure, Senate Bill 48, passed the Senate unanimously on Monday and moved through the House on a 38-2 vote on Tuesday, going to the governor for his signature into law.

The intent of the legislation is to promote forest preservation so that the state can profit from its participation in fighting climate change.

Most of legislators’ comments on the House floor leading up to the vote touted the bill’s potential for generating state revenue from national and global demand for carbon offsets.

The measure is a high priority for Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The Republican governor introduced it early in the session and touted the idea in his State of the State address in January as a potential source of future revenue.

John Boyle, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said he was “very excited” to get the bill approved in such an overwhelming fashion. “Folks recognize that it’s a good idea and a good move for the state and we’re very happy to see it advance.”

In floor remarks leading to the vote, Anchorage Sen. Bill Wielechowski said the program established through the bill is a new opportunity for the state to generate much-needed revenue.

He also addressed some of the public backlash to the bill that emerged during the deliberation process and, as he characterized it, veered at times into conspiracy theories. “This is the state responding to a need that exists in the free market. This is not a cap-and-trade program. We are not putting any emissions limits on anyone,” Wielechowski said. “We are not locking up land. This bill has provisions that state land must remain open for public access, like hunting, fishing, hiking, trapping, mining, even oil development.”

Among the types of development contemplated for land leased for carbon-offset credits is logging — even though most state-owned forested land is in the boreal region of the Interior, which has traditionally not supported much commercial logging.

Boyle said his department will work as quickly as possible to set up regulations, as the state needs more revenue. But the amount of money to be raised through these projects is yet to be determined, he said.

Moving more slowly and not winning approval this session is the governor’s companion bill that would set up a system for storing carbon gases in emptied oil and gas reservoirs with the purpose of sequestering the greenhouse gases emitted by petroleum production and other industrial activities.

The plan is that the state could earn money by leasing the reservoir space to carbon storage operations.

Versions of that bill are pending in the Senate and House and could be considered next year.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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