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Community Perspective

AIDEA must diversify Alaska’s economy for a resilient future

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The era of Big Oil is over. The energy transition has begun, yet too many of Alaska’s leaders are failing to explore and invest in a just, clean-energy economy that builds long lasting, economic resilience. This is a critical moment for our elected leaders and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) to seek out and invest in diverse, local opportunities. This does not look like “investing” $70M in the recently foreclosed Mustang project, $35M on the Ambler Road, and $12M on Arctic Refuge leases. AIDEA must shift to responsible development of renewable resources rather than continue to subsidize extractive industries.

We can build a resilient economy based in Alaska-owned small businesses, in the health and wellness of our people, and in hard and honest work. This starts by listening to the generations of Alaska Natives who understand these values and have lived on this land in prosperity for over 10,000 years. Elders recognize that there is vast potential for social and economic health in Alaska, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be found in oil.

AIDEA’s mission is to promote a healthy and diverse economy through sound investments. Oil lease speculation is, at best, a dubious role for AIDEA, which now faces litigation as numerous groups challenge the Trump administration’s lease sale process. In addition to protections in the executive order signed on President Biden’s day one, the new administration broadly supports permanent protection for the refuge, an environmentally sensitive and culturally sacred area.

Reliance on oil to fund the state budget continues to decrease, and the portion funded from Permanent Fund earnings continues to grow. Gov. Dunleavy claims that without oil and gas, “our future is not bright.” To the contrary, capitalizing on our strengths, supporting entrepreneurial effort, and creating clean energy jobs will sustain our communities and lands. Here are specific areas of opportunity for a just transition to a fossil-fuel-free and prosperous economy:

• Put Alaskans to work upgrading public infrastructure. Leverage billions of federal funding in fundamental and transformational infrastructure — broadband, electric grids, energy efficient buildings, safe water, and renewable energy.

• Put Alaskans to work cleaning up pollution from military sites and past oil/gas operations.

• Nearly half the US military’s formerly used defense sites (FUDS) that still require remediation are in Alaska.

• Strengthen Indigenous tribal management of public lands to ensure the free, prior and informed consent of the historic stewards of the land.

• Highlight assets such as spectacular scenery, wildlife, opportunities to experience wilderness and numerous National and State Parks.

• Expand and strengthen our outdoor recreation and tourism economy, with local entrepreneurs, communities and regional organizations leading the way.

• Support and expand existing successful enterprises such as sustainable agriculture for local food production; subsistence, sport and commercial fisheries; healthcare; financial services; information services; environmental services; and the arts.

• Maintain a high quality of life. Alaska must build an excellent educational system from preschool through university that attracts people to come here, live here and stay here.

• Engage, develop and strengthen relationships with investors, financial institutions and philanthropists to fund just transition initiatives.

We must get our state fiscal house in order by adopting a plan to sustain essential public services and to help Alaska businesses recover from the pandemic.

Alaska leaders missed the mark by speculating on Arctic Refuge oil leases. They should reverse course and focus on investments that will move our state forward. Alaska cannot afford to tether its future to the oil era of the past. We call on our leaders to pursue a prosperous clean-energy future beyond fossil fuels.

Kay Brown is arctic policy director for Pacific Environment, former director of Oil and Gas for the State of Alaska and a former state representative; Margi Dashevsky is the Regenerative Economies Coordinator with Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition; Sarah Furman is the Keep It In the Ground Organizer with Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition; Nauri Toler is the North Slope environmental justice coordinator with Native Movement; Carly Dennis is an organizer with Fireweed Collective; Shawna Larson is deputy director of Native Movement.

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