The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

Associated Press 

Climate change and Alaska: Gov. Walker creates special team

State looks to transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy - but how?


November 8, 2017

Photo courtesy State of Alaska

Gov. Bill Walker - and former Valdez mayor - shakes hands with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott after he signed an administrative order to create a leadership team to guide Alaska through climate change issues.

JUNEAU - Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is creating a special team to recommend ways to address climate change, saying Alaska, an Arctic state with vast coastlines, is on front lines.

An initial action plan by the still-to-be-assembled team is due by Sept. 1.

Just how any recommendations might be funded remains an open question. Walker told reporters it is unclear who would pay to relocate villages being nibbled away by erosion, though he said later he's not confident in securing federal funds for that work.

Oil and gas revenue could act as "bridge funding" to help mitigate the impacts of climate change, he said.

The state has long relied on oil revenues to fund state government but has been mired in a multibillion-dollar budget deficit amid low oil prices.

Resolving the fiscal situation has been a focus of Walker's administration and remains unsettled. But Walker said "climate change is not going to be set aside as a result of our fiscal situation."

With the new team, he hopes to focus more attention on climate change and create a map for addressing its effects.

"It's something that affects Alaska in ways that no other state has to deal with," he said.

The team, created by an administrative order, will be led by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who said a transition from a petroleum-based economy to a renewable-energy economy will be a "critical and necessary focus going forward."

Areas the team will be asked to look at are mitigation, adaptation, research and response.

Its membership is to include up to 15 public members from groups with a stake in the issue, representatives from the private sector, indigenous organizations and local governments. It also will include members from the university system and various state agencies.

The effort is intended to build off recommendations of prior climate policy initiatives in the state.

Andrew Welle is an attorney for a group of young people suing the state, alleging it has not done enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He sees the potential for work that's already been done to be duplicated under the new order.

Gov. Bill Walker signs administrative order last week to address climate change in Alaska.

Walker "wants to recreate the wheel and further delay emissions reductions in Alaska while he and the state continue to aggressively expand oil and gas extraction," Welle said in a release.

Michael LeVine, a senior Arctic fellow at the Ocean Conservancy, sees Walker's action as a positive step and said he's hopeful to see real solutions.

Walker's move came two days before he testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in support of oil and gas exploration and development in the 1002 section of the non-wilderness area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Lt. Governor Mallott, a Tlingit clan leader, also testified in support of oil and gas exploration.

To further muddy the waters, the Trump administration released a report Friday acknowledging that climate change not only exists, but that it is man-made and threatening.


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