Obama to Discuss Climate, Energy in AK 08/29 09:35
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.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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.
Obama will become the first sitting president to visit the Alaska Arctic
when he travels to Kotzebue --- population around 3,000 --- just north of the
Arctic Circle at the end of his three-day trip. He'll kick off the visit Monday
with a speech to a State Department-hosted conference on climate change and the
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. 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.
"This is all real," Obama said in his weekly address released Saturday.
"This is happening to our fellow Americans right now."
Yet Obama has taken steps that show he's cautiously navigating the competing
environmental and energy interests at play. 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. 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. 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. Sen. Dan Sullivan warned that any national or
ocean monument designations "will go over like a lead balloon" among Alaska's
Democrats and Republicans alike.
"What there's concern about is that he's going to use Alaska as some green
screen for climate change, when he doesn't take the opportunity to dig into
other issues that are important to Alaskans, important to the country,"
Sullivan said in an interview.
Obama has been investing time on an unfinished global climate treaty that
nations hope to finalize in December, as he works to secure his environmental
legacy before his presidency ends. The president has pledged a U.S. cut in
greenhouse gas emissions of up to 28 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels,
and plans to use the Alaska visit to build public pressure on other nations to
commit to similarly ambitious measures.
After arriving in Anchorage on Monday afternoon, Obama plans to meet with
Alaska Natives before addressing the Arctic climate resilience summit, dubbed
GLACIER, which involves Arctic and non-Arctic leaders, scientists,
environmental advocates and the energy industry. Secretary of State John Kerry,
a key player in the climate treaty talks, also plans to speak.
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. After hiking
to the glacier, Obama is to board a U.S. Coast Guard vessel to tour Kenai
Fjords National Park.
His visit continues Wednesday in Dillingham, in southwest Alaska, where
Obama will meet with fishermen locked in an ongoing conflict with miners over
plans to build a massive gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay, home to the
world's largest salmon fishery. 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.
While in Alaska, Obama is likely to face calls from Democrats and
environmentalists to restrict Arctic drilling and to renew his request to
Congress to make more of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR,
off-limits as well. Republicans and energy advocates planned to urge the
president to clear the way for more drilling.
Aside from brief campaign stops, few presidents have spent significant time
in Alaska. President Warren Harding, shortly before his death in 1923, toured
nine Alaska communities in three parts of the state.