In Alaska, Obama to walk fine line on climate change, energy

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

In Alaska, Obama Will Be in Middle of Oil and Climate Change Battle.

Barack Obama has been forced to defend his decision to allow the hunt for oil in the last great wilderness of the Arctic, on the eve of an historic visit to Alaska intended to spur the fight against climate change.Washington: When President Barack Obama visits Alaska this month, he’ll be greeted by politicians eager to show off their state’s vast wilderness and stirring scenery — and sceptical of White House plans to protect those resources.It will produce a photo-opportunity similar to David Cameron’s 2006 husky expedition when the then Tory opposition leader sought to underline his party’s green credentials and determination to deal with global warming.

The three-day tour – which will include a hike across a shrinking glacier and visits to coastal communities buffeted by sea-level rise and erosion – was intended to showcase the real-time effects of climate change. The state’s political leaders are anxious about whether Obama’s trip will coincide with new executive actions or regulations that could further strain an economy already rocked by slumping oil prices. Bill Walker ticks down the things he wants President Obama to see in visiting this vast northern state starting on Monday, and glorious glacial vistas are not at the top of the list.

Obama’s lengthy journey — some 3,500 miles (5,600 kilometers) — aims to bring “awareness of the profound nature of change and the urgency that goes with that,” said Rafe Pomerance, member of the Polar Research Board at the National Academy of Sciences. “When you look at the glaciers of Alaska and Greenland, when you look at sea ice, permafrost, spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere; all of it is melting and shrinking very rapidly with profound consequences in the rest of the world.” Scientists have routinely warned of those consequences, such as when permafrost, a thick subsurface layer of frozen soil that holds billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases, continues to melt. “The Arctic matters hugely for its own sake, particularly for the four million people who live in the Arctic, but it matters to everyone because of its impacts beyond the Arctic.” Obama recently unveiled a plan for drastic cuts to carbon emissions from power plants, expected to cause the closure of several dilapidated coal plants. Donald Trump, the front-runner in the race to win the nomination, has made his views clear on Twitter, railing against what he called the “Global Warming Hoax”. The president “doesn’t go to anybody’s state and stay three days and not do something,” senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said at an August 6 breakfast with Bloomberg editors and reporters in Washington. “Many Alaskans have expressed anxiety and worry about further land use designations or ocean preserves that would permanently lock away resources critical to our state and local economies,” Representative Don Young, a Republican who has represented the state since 1973, said in an email. But he will meet a tough audience in Alaska, at a time when many of his Republican foes deny that the planet is warming or that human activity is influencing the phenomenon. “As if on command from the most extreme environmentalist elements, this president and his team of DC bureaucrats believe they alone know what’s best for Alaska,” echoed Congressman Don Young.

Texas senator, Ted Cruz, denies climate change is taking place and has accused scientists of cooking the books to make their case, while Jeb Bush has said the Obama administration’s proposed measures to tackle carbon emissions are unconstitutional and Marco Rubio said they will force up the cost of electricity for ordinary Americans. He has been criticized for approving Shell Oil drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea while also making his latest push on site against climate change.

He hopes to clinch a deal to reduce world carbon emissions, blamed for rising temperatures, at a United Nations conference in Paris at the end of the year. Environmental activists say such moves send a counterproductive message ahead of the Paris conference, a crucial meeting aimed at clinching a global accord to slow global warming.

Walker points out that law enforcement, education and transportation — all crucial in a state with roadless areas larger than Texas — were all severely hit as a fifth of the state budget got redlined out earlier this year, and billions more in cuts loom for next year. “I’d show him the number of employees we’ve laid off, the troopers we’ve laid off, the trooper stations we’ve closed, the brand-new helicopters that we’re putting into storage — taking the blades off because we can’t afford to operate them on search and rescue,” said Mr. Mr Obama is to be a keynote speaker at an Arctic climate change conference in Anchorage, which will also be attended by a number of other governments, including Britain.

Yet Obama has also received praise for decisions like his move in late December to halt drilling in the Bristol Bay and to protect millions of acres of coastland and wilderness. “I would rather us — with all the safeguards and standards that we have — be producing our oil and gas, rather than importing it,” Obama said in May. Walker, a former lawyer and businessman who was elected last year as a political independent. “It’s real, and it’s not a slight adjustment.” As Mr. But despite the President’s determination to bolster his green credibility he has faced criticism from environmentalists after Royal Dutch Shell was given approval by the US government to resume oil exploration in the Alaskan Arctic.

The Alaska Climate Action Network, which includes groups such as Greenpeace, plans its own chilly welcome for Obama in Alaska, where it will stage protests against the president’s “deeply hypocritical” positions when he arrives in Anchorage. Later in his trip, Obama will meet with residents of Alaskans who the White House says have been hurt by climate change and other environmental perils. Oil prices have fallen to multiyear lows, and production has declined from aging oil fields — with consequences rippling through a state that pays for just about everything with taxes from oil. After a visit to melting glaciers in the Kenai Fjords National park, Obama will visit the rural community of Dillingham, close to Bristol Bay, site of the world’s biggest natural salmon run. The president will also visit the town of Kotzebue, which is increasingly battered by Arctic storms because of coastal erosion and the retreat of sea ice cover.

The group says fishing equipment has harmed fragile coral and sponge habitats, and that the government should do more to protect vulnerable animals in the area. “This is the talk about town. ‘Oh my gosh, what’s he gonna do? Walker said, he hoped to help the president understand Alaska’s dependence, because of climate and geography, on what can be extracted from the land or sea. Last September, he broadened the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument to nearly half a million square miles, over the objections of tuna fishermen operating in the region. Giving the go-ahead to Shell to drill two exploratory wells in the harsh and unforgiving conditions puts the Arctic at risk of a spill, campaign groups argue. Recent tumult in global stock and energy markets has added further urgency, as doubts about economic growth in China and around the world have clouded Alaska’s future.

An Alaska Native tribal group with investments in Arctic leases also began a statewide television advertising campaign this week to coincide with the president’s visit. More than half the state’s budget and 90 per cent of the government’s discretionary spending comes from oil revenue, which has rapidly declined thanks to a strengthening US dollar and a glut of oil. The tribe asserts that, contrary to the idea that drilling threatens native life, energy development is crucial to paying for the services that tribes depend on in remote places. But that he is coming here specifically to look at climate change implications also suggests to many people an agenda that does not necessarily include Alaska’s economic interests.

Walker said in a phone interview that he will emphasise the state’s economic challenges to Obama, and highlight opportunities to increase rather than reduce energy production. In per capita federal spending, for things like land management and other programs, it was one of the most federally dependent states in 2013, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, beaten only by the geographic triumvirate around the capital — Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. As Chris Tuck, the minority leader in the State House of Representatives and a Democrat, put it: “I’m just hoping we don’t get blamed for the fact that the glaciers are melting.”

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