Obama Alaska agenda focused on climate change


More questions than answers have bred ample speculation about President Barack Obama’s trip to Alaska less than a week before he is scheduled to arrive.

The president’s three-day trip, Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, will be his first extended stay in the state.

During a press briefing, Sen. Lisa Murkowski called it a “somewhat historic” event for a non-campaigning president to spend three days in Alaska, or any state.

Obama spoke to armed service members at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage in 2009 during a brief refueling stop while en route to Asia.

Murkowski doesn’t know much more than anyone else about the president’s plans, but has heard that worry about the president making a major announcement while he’s here is unnecessary.

“I have been told there will be no surprises,” Murkowski said.

The senior Republican senator also said she wants Obama to come to Alaska with an open mind and meet Alaskans, rather than take a scripted tour of the state.

“I’m hopeful that he is not going to use Alaska merely as a backdrop for climate change — that he will see some of the innovative technologies that are allowing us to adapt in an Arctic environment that is changing,” Murkowski said.

A brief video outlining his visit on the White House website hints that Murkowski might be disappointed. It begins with Obama saying: “Later this month I’m going to Alaska and I’m going because Alaskans are on the forefront of one of the greatest challenges we face in this century, climate change.”

Plans are for him to visit Dillingham and Kotzebue after spending the first day of his trip in Anchorage.

Kotzebue Mayor Maija Lukin said Aug. 24 in a formal statement that it is encouraging to have the president see the “real-life impacts of climate change we have faced.”

Many seaside Western Alaska communities have struggled to fight increased coastal erosion in recent years caused by storms at a time when there is less sea ice and permafrost to protect the coastline.

“We’ve been working as a community to mitigate these impacts for years and look forward to working together on future projects that ensure our residents have a home for generations to come,” Lukin said.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who visited Kotzebue for two days in February, will accompany Obama on his trip, according to Murkowski.

Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to be in Alaska with the president. Like Obama, Kerry’s only visit to Alaska has been on a refueling stop while on an Asian junket.

The State Department is hosting the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER) at the Dena’ina Center Anchorage Aug. 30-31.

It’s anticipated that Obama will address the GLACIER conference.

GLACIER is not an international Arctic Council event. The U.S. took chairmanship of the Arctic Council for a two-year term earlier this year. The State Department is the country’s representative body for the Arctic Council.

Domestic and foreign leaders at the conference will hear panel discussions about managing climate change in the Arctic, improving international Arctic emergency response, cold climate building and preventing unregulated fishing in international Arctic waters.

Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan will also speak before the gathering of foreign ministers at the GLACIER welcoming reception Aug. 30.

Sullivan spokesman Mike Anderson wrote in an email the senator has been encouraging the administration to address issues important to Alaska beyond climate change, such as reversing proposed force reductions at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the need for more icebreaker capacity and increased resource development opportunities in the state among other topics.

Rep. Don Young will not attend GLACIER, according to his spokesman Matt Shuckerow.

Young shared the senators’ sentiments about the president’s trip in an unbridled statement responding to the video outlining Obama’s objectives for his trip.

“Many Alaskans have expressed anxiety and worry about further land use designations or ocean reserves that would permanently lock away resources critical to our state and local economies, including fish, oil and gas, minerals timber,” Young said. “The resources within Alaska can be and should be managed and developed responsibly. It is my hope that the president will use his visit as an opportunity to learn about the many challenges we face and not as a platform to pander to extreme interest groups using Alaska as a poster child for their reckless agenda.”

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

09/08/2016 - 11:00pm