Obama says Alaska trip next week will highlight climate change

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

WASHINGTON — With melting glaciers and rising seas as his backdrop, President Barack Obama will visit Alaska next week to press for urgent global action to combat climate change, even as he carefully calibrates his message in a state heavily dependent on oil. 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. The president said that Alaskans are already living with the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, more frequent and extensive forest fires, melting glaciers, bigger storm surges and “some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world.” He said that without action temperatures in Alaska could rise six to 12 degrees by the end of the century. 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. The unambiguous goal of the president’s trip is to use dramatic and alarming changes to Alaska’s climate to instill fresh urgency into his global warming agenda. 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.

Sea ice is melting, critical permafrost is thawing and Alaska’s cherished glaciers are liquefying — powerful visuals that Obama hopes will illustrate the threat to natural wonders and livelihoods and serve as a global call to action. Climate change poses the same threat, right now.” Obama has, however, allowed oil exploration to continue in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s Arctic coast and drilling by Shell Oil is underway at one well now. A few weeks ago, his administration gave Royal Dutch Shell a final permit to drill into oil-bearing rock off Alaska’s northwest coast for the first time in more than two decades. “The president has made great strides in protecting the Arctic, but we are really disappointed with this decision,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska director for The Wilderness Society. “This is a point where we disagree.” For many Alaskans, though, the issue comes down to dollars and cents. On arrival in Anchorage on August 31, the president will address a conference of foreign ministers, scientists and scholars from more than a dozen countries with interests in the Arctic region. 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.

Both the state government and its residents rely deeply on oil revenues to stay afloat, and falling oil prices have already created a serious budget deficit. Brian Deese, Obama’s senior adviser, sought to strike a balance between Alaska’s economics needs and the president’s goal to eventually phase out fossil fuels. “That’s a transition that is not going to happen overnight,” Deese said.

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. In the meantime, he added, “oil and gas will remain important parts of our overall energy mix.” Ahead of Obama’s visit, state Republican leaders emphasized the need for more energy development and urged Obama not to exploit the state’s stunning scenery for political purposes. 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. In an unusual presidential photo-op, Obama will travel Tuesday to Seward, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, where the Exit Glacier is retreating in what environmentalists say is a dramatic sign of warming temperatures.

The president is also expected to promote his plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 32% below 2005 levels, and his expansion of protections to Alaska wilderness areas. 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.

Then he’ll fly north to Kotzebue, a regional hub in the Alaska Arctic, where Obama will focus on the plight of rural, native villages where livelihoods are threatened by encroaching climate change. The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s earlier this month downgraded Alaska’s outlook to negative from stable, citing the structural deficit in the state budget. 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. The president of the State Senate, Kevin Meyer, a Republican, said a tour of the Cook Inlet south of Anchorage, where oil-drilling platforms and rich fishing grounds are flourishing, would show that the issues are not all black and white. “Resource development, fishing and the environment can all coexist,” Mr.

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