Alaskans Lobby For Climate Bill

By Libby Casey

Even though the U-S Senate unveiled a climate change bill last week, the focus in Washington is mostly elsewhere: on financial reform, the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, and preparing to vet the President’s Supreme Court nominee.

But a group of Alaskans say passing a climate bill this year should be a priority.  They’re in the nation’s capital this week lobbying with the National Wildlife Federation.  N-W-F Anchorage-based attorney Pat Lavin says the group represents a range of diverse voices:

Alaskans from all walks of life want action on national energy policy and just addressing energy and climate change in general from our congress and from our Alaska delegation, especially our two senators.

Father Thomas Weise is a Catholic pastor from Juneau, and a founding member of Alaska Interfaith Power and Light, which focuses on energy efficiency and greening congregations.  He wants to see a climate change law that will jump start the use of renewable energy.

As a pastor in Juneau I meet the poor often, and this is impacting them really hard.  When oil prices were really high a couple years ago we had almost every week someone coming into the church of oil assistance, because they were going to go cold in trailer.  And it got my attention, we need to do something.

Weise says he’d like to see legislation extend energy efficiency incentives for non-profits and churches, not just to homeowners and businesses.  He wants to see a bill passed this year.

If we can add that prudent look at climate change, add a care for poor, and sense that common resources are common to everyone, those in power and those without a voice, can come up with moral solution, that moral imperative that will care for all three of those areas.

University of Alaska Fairbanks retired professor Dave Klein says even if a bill isn’t perfect at first, the country needs a starting point and should act rather than waiting longer.

Members of Congress, their job will never be done.  If they pass legislation today we’ll obviously want to modify it to keep up with the times.  That’s a democracy in action.

Klein is 83, and worked on climate change science and arctic ecology throughout his career and says more research should be done on the effects of climate change – especially in the arctic and the oceans.

The sea is so damn productive, yet that productivity is effected by human behavior, including climate warming, as well as pollution, we don’t know what affect we’re having on marine environment.

Stanley Tom from Newtok says the effects of climate change are clearly evident in his village, which is losing the battle against coastal erosion and is in the process of moving.  Tom is the tribal administrator for the Newtok Traditional Council, and says he wants to see more money for villages like his, and for other Alaska Native communities affected by warming temperatures:

I hope they will pass more funding for the relocating villages.  Because there’s about 150 villages being impacted in Alaska itself.  So there’s a big time.  And right now 11 villages right below us that will be on the list too.  So we badly need more funding.

Jane Haigh traveled to Washington from Kenai, where she says residents are working to make the community more sustainable and green.  She wants to see leadership demonstrate that too at the national level.  The college professor says her bottom line is seeing an energy bill of some sort passed this year.

Regulating carbon either through a tax or cap and trade system is imperative if you’re going to control greenhouse gasses.  It’s sometimes unpopular to talk about that.  But we also need to have incentives of various sorts to develop renewable energy systems, efficient transportation systems, electric motors, natural gas cars, you can’t have the car if you don’t have the fueling system, you can’t get the fueling system if there aren’t any cars, you need to… a little bit of an incentive to goose the process along.

Fairbanks resident Jenn Peterson says those incentives could make all the difference.  When she graduated from college in the mid-1990s, the Internet boom helped launch her career in Information Technology.  Peterson says that boom was driven by federal funds – and she wants to see the same thing happen in renewable technology.

The internet wouldn’t have existed if the DOD hadn’t put significant resources into developing it.  Henry Ford invented the automobile, but it wouldn’t have gone anywhere if it weren’t for the interstate highway system that Eisenhower mandated.

So if we’re going to have the revolution in green technology we need to end our dependence on fossil fuel, we will need the government to significantly subsidize and catalyze the research and development in that area.

Good future jobs – and a healthy environment – motivated Fairbanksan Dan Adams to go to Washington.  He’s a retired health care quality manager and veteran, and says he’s concerned about his grandchildren.

Adams says the Alaskans may have individual goals, but all agree that a climate bill needs to move forward soon.

They need to be getting started.  There’s a lot to be sorted out.  We found out from Senator Murkowski’s staff that they’re trying to work through all of these finance and taxation things on carbon, and it seems like you could drag it out forever, and never come to agreement on it, unless you wanted to.  And then you could sort it out.

The climate change bill introduced in the senate last week does not have Republican support at this point, and will likely need to win the approval of Alaska’s senators if it’s to move forward.


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