From Alaska Dispatch
JUNEAU -- President Barack Obama will visit Alaska in August, Sen. Lisa Murkowski told Alaska legislators Wednesday in a joint legislative session.
And this trip, she said, appears to be a real visit, not simply a gas stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to fill up Air Force One as it travels between Washington and Asia.
Murkowski, during her annual address to the Legislature, said she had been told about the trip by Secretary of State John Kerry while discussing Arctic issues with him. She said that the White House considers Alaska to be among the states the president has visited, but that he’s never actually left JBER.
“He’s never been off base,” she said.
Murkowski acknowledged Obama had met military families during those trips, but she wanted him to learn more about Alaska issues. Other than hearing from Kerry he’s going to be in Alaska with the president next summer, Murkowski said she didn’t know much about the trip.
“I have to assume that it will be more than a refueling stop,” she said.
The presidential visit was not included in Murkowski’s prepared text but was mentioned in response to a question from Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, from the floor and reiterated to reporters later.
But even as she announced Alaska would be playing host to the president, she ramped up the rhetoric to accuse Obama of trying to rid Alaska of the trans-Alaska pipeline -- and all the benefits it brings the state.
“It looks like the goal is to shut down the pipeline,” Alaska’s senior senator said from the friendly floor of the Alaska Legislature, pointing to Obama administration decisions which she said would do just that.
One, a Department of Interior decision that would allow drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska but require expensive environmental mitigation measures, and another that would make future oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge more difficult, combined with withdrawing areas of the outer continental shelf from drilling, all threaten the pipeline, she said.
“I have never been a good alarmist, but it is becoming harder and harder to conclude that this administration’s long-term plan is anything other than to starve our Trans-Alaska Pipeline System of new oil,” Murkowski said in the text of her speech provided to reporters.
She gave no reason why the Obama administration would want to do that but said, “It sure looks like their goal is to shut down our pipeline once and for all -- to see it decommissioned and dismantled,” she said.
While Murkowski defended her claim about the president’s intent to shut down the pipeline as the “reality” that Alaska lives with, other legislators said they were surprised to hear such a confrontational tone.
Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, called Murkowski’s pipeline claims “over the top” but said he considered them to be political hyperbole. He never heard a top official say there was a goal of shutting down the pipeline, a claim he said was “overly dramatic.”
House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he’d never heard a leader of Murkowski’s stature make such a claim about presidential intent, and he hadn’t made such a claim himself, but when he looked at the same issues he saw the same outcome.
“Some of the major opportunities to provide more oil for TAPS are certainly going to come from offshore or ANWR or NPR-A,” he said. “If you continue to lock up all of offshore and you lock up all of ANWR and you lock up most of NPR-A, your opportunities are going to be a lot less for putting more oil in the pipeline,” he said.
That means Murkowski’s claim about the Obama administration is not unreasonable, he said.
“They may not say that’s their goal, but I can draw that line,” Chenault said
Josephson said Murkowski may be trying to look more conservative as conservatives have more power in Washington, D.C., especially in the Senate, where she chairs the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“She’s clearly more moderate than some of her colleagues, both in Washington and in Alaska,” he said.
One sign of moderation may be in acknowledging climate change, something that can be controversial in the nation’s capital, where many Republicans in Congress are climate change deniers.
“I think that is real and it’s not just anecdotal” but has been confirmed by science, she said. “I’ve been one of the earlier Republicans in the Senate to state there is a change in climate. We see it here in Alaska we see it in the Arctic, ” she said.
Murkowski also appeared to acknowledge a human role in climate change and in confronting it.
“We have a responsibility to address the impact that we have; we need to be acting to responsibly to reduce our emissions,” she said.
But she said the nation needs a strong economy to develop and build the technology that will help deal with climate change.
She said she hoped Obama wouldn’t use his trip to Alaska to simply talk about climate change.