Obama to Talk Climate, Reveal New Alaska Policies

To a president calling for global action on climate change, Alaska serves as a big show-and-tell exhibit. White House Senior Advisor Brian Deese told reporters in a conference call that as President Obama travels around the state, he’ll draw worldwide attention to the impacts of climate change, which scientists say is changing the Arctic more dramatically than anywhere else on Earth.

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“The president has a unique opportunity in going to Alaska to try to highlight why it is important that we act and that there is an urgency in acting,” Deese said. “So I think you can anticipate that he will be trying to speak quite plainly to those issues.”

Details are finally shaking out about President Obama’s Alaska visit. The White House says the president WILL announce new policy initiatives while he’s here, but as Deese described it today, they aren’t aimed at cutting off access to Alaska’s natural resources, as some state leaders fear. At least, that’s not the primary thrust.

(The cat is apparently out of the bag on one announcement: News of Obama Initiative on Village Relocation Pops in Nome)

Deese also confirmed what’s been rumored for weeks: Yes, when he’s in the Seward area on Tuesday, the president plans to visit Exit Glacier, in Kenai Fjords National Park.

“The president will have an opportunity to spend sometime in the park and experience both the beauty and the impact that the climate has had on that area,” he said.

Researchers say Exit Glacier has retreated more than a mile since the early 1800s. Deese says the president will talk to Seward business owners and fishermen, and also plans to board a Coast Guard cutter to view the park from the water.

Wednesday, Air Force 1 is off to Dillingham, followed by Kotzebue, where Obama will become the first sitting president to touch U.S. land above the Arctic Circle.

Obama has been getting grief from environmental groups for permitting Shell to drill in Arctic waters this summer. In Alaska, political leaders complain he doesn’t allow enough development of natural resources, and he infuriated them by recommending wilderness status for much of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, among others, has said she worries Obama will try to use the Antiquities Act to put ANWR off-limits to oil and gas development forever, and some fear a big announcement of that kind on this trip. They might be heartened by some of the statements the senior advisor made.

“It is the president’s view that if we’re using oil and natural gas, that we’re better positioned to rely on American resources and to be able to put in place the highest and most stringent safety standards,” he said.

That’s the kind of statement made by proponents of more oil drilling on federal land. On the other hand, Brian Deese also spoke highly of Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act, which allows a president to create national monuments without seeking Congressional approval.

“This is a president who has used his authorities under the Antiquities Act to protect more public lands and water than any other president in history,” he said.

(The pro-drilling side says things like this, too, but in a different tone of voice.)

Deese wasn’t all that specific, but he says the new policies Obama will unveil are about spreading strategies Alaska communities have deployed in the areas of alternative energy and response to climate change.

“Principally the policy initiatives that we’ll be talking about on this trip are ones that are about trying to identify ways the federal government can work more effectively with the communities, with the tribal nations, with the state to build on success.”

Obama is expected to arrive Monday at Joint-Base Elmendorf Richardson and speak during the closing session of a State Department conference at the Dena’ina Center.

 

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz