Alaska legislators begin drilling into governor’s underground-carbon plan

State lawmakers need to hire new independent advisers because their usual firm was plucked by Gov. Dunleavy’s administration

By: - February 13, 2023 6:14 pm

Members of the House Resources Committee hear a presentation on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, about House Bill 50, the carbon sequestration bill. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

State lawmakers have begun examining a plan to set regulations and fees for companies who collect carbon dioxide and inject it deep underground.

Members of the Alaska House Resources Committee held their first hearing on the proposal from Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday, and a leading member of the House’s majority caucus said he expects lawmakers to move swiftly in hiring consultants to help lawmakers analyze the idea.

“You clearly have done a lot of work on this bill, and we will work hard to further evaluate the proposal, as we are charged to do,” said Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage and the committee’s chair, speaking to officials testifying on behalf of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

No hearings on the proposal have been scheduled this week, but McKay said he expects more to come.

“Those meetings will be scheduled, and there will be plenty of notice for the public to testify,” he said.

With climate change an increasingly important global issue, companies are facing market and governmental pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many companies — including oil and gas firms — have made pledges to reach “net zero” emissions by 2050 or sooner.

There are two main ways to do that: preserving enough forest to balance a company’s emissions, or to reduce those emissions in the first place.

The bill considered late last week involves what’s called “carbon capture utilization, and storage” — collecting emissions, then injecting them underground. It’s already done on a limited basis elsewhere in the United States and has been tried on Alaska’s North Slope.

The federal Inflation Reduction Act includes a generous system of tax credits for underground injection, which has encouraged further work.

House Bill 50, examined Friday, and Senate Bill 49 — the identical Senate companion legislation — would set up a system of regulations for collecting and injecting carbon, and establish lease rates for state land used for injection.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” said Rep. Donna Mears, D-Anchorage and a member of the resources committee.

The Legislature’s normal consultant on oil and gas issues has been hired by the Dunleavy administration, so lawmakers are searching for new independent advice. 

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, is the chair of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, a joint House-Senate panel in charge of hiring legislative advisers. He said he expects to interview several potential consulting firms, then present options to the committee.

He sees it as an “urgent matter,” and lawmakers could bypass normal procurement procedures.

The carbon bill is one of two proposed by Dunleavy to capitalize on global interest for ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in order to fight climate change.

Carpenter said he’s heard from some constituents who worry that the proposals could lead to a tax on carbon in Alaska, but that idea isn’t being considered by the governor or legislators.

Carpenter said that given legislators’ experience with oil and gas drilling, “there’s probably not as large a hurdle to understand” underground sequestration, and he speculated that the legislation could move quickly once vetted.

“Alaska has a lot of experience in how to poke a hole in the ground for the areas we want to explore,” said Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton and a member of the committee.


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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected].