Walker administration appoints climate adviser, promises new policy “soon”

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott file for re-election on Monday, August 21, 2017, at the Division of Elections in Juneau, Alaska. The two are filing as unaffiliated candidates — though Mallott maintains his personal affiliation with the Democratic party. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The Walker administration has said for more than a year that it’s working on a new set of policies to address climate change.

Those policies have yet to materialize.

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But Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott told an Anchorage audience Tuesday that a plan is coming soon, and he announced a new climate point person in the executive branch.

Mallott told a gathering of ocean researchers in Anchorage that climate change is an urgent challenge for Alaska. He pointed out that indigenous people have been some of the first to feel the impacts, both in Alaska and around the world.

“Without question, the First Peoples of our state live in the places where climate change is most affecting lives,” Mallott said.

But in the big picture, Mallott said, “we are all indigenous to island Earth.”

After his talk, Mallott said the Walker administration is still hammering out a strategy that will build on the state’s last big climate policy push, under former Gov. Sarah Palin.

“There’s a lot of work going on, and we hope to be able to bring it to focus within the next couple of months,” Mallott said.

But at least a few things are clear: for the first time, Mallott said, any plan must include cuts to carbon emissions. And, he said Alaska has to look at the big picture.

“Continuing development of petroleum resources is very important to our economy and our state’s near-term future,” Mallott said. “But at the same time, we need to begin planning for a future in which carbon-based fuel and energy is ultimately phased out.”

Mallott said he expects the governor to announce an administrative order on climate policy “soon.”

That’s been the administration’s line for awhile now.

Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott with Nikoosh Carlo, the new special adviser for climate. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor)

But there has been at least one formal step this year: This month, Gov. Walker appointed Nikoosh Carlo to the newly created position of senior climate adviser.

“I think I probably took a deep breath and paused for a long time,” Carlo said, laughing about her reaction when asked to tackle climate policy. “It’s such a huge issue.”

Originally from Fairbanks and Tanana, Carlo most recently worked with the U.S. State Department’s delegation to the Arctic Council. She also ran the commission that wrote Alaska’s official Arctic Policy.

Carlo said her first step will be outreach: bringing together local and tribal leaders, industry and citizen groups. She said it’s going to be a long process.

“But I’m excited,” Carlo said. “I think the interest to address this issue is definitely there within the state. I think we’re all going to come together on this. We have to.”