Palin challenged on environment

DRILLING: Polar bear lawsuit and ANWR waved like red flags.

August 30, 2008 

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain's choice of a running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, favors drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, questioned the science behind predictions of sea ice loss linked to global warming and opposed a state initiative that would have banned metal mines from discharging pollution into salmon streams.

The Alaska governor has said that she has tried to persuade McCain to agree with her on drilling in the wildlife refuge. She also has said that she was happy that he changed his position over the summer and now supports offshore oil drilling.

In oil-rich Alaska, many residents support Arctic Refuge drilling.

Palin's environmental views could get more of an airing now that she has landed on the national stage. A look at some recent developments and her record so far in Alaska provide some insights into her thinking about climate change and other issues.

Earlier this month, the state of Alaska under Palin's guidance sued Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in an attempt to reverse his decision to list polar bears as a threatened species. Palin said that scientists' predictions that global warming will eliminate the ice where the bears live in summer were unreliable.

Arctic sea ice shrank to a record low by the end of last summer, and satellites now show that the ice has been reduced to a level very close to last year's with some days remaining before a new winter season begins.

The Anchorage Daily News reported in May that the head of the marine mammals program for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and two other marine mammal biologists on his staff agreed with nine studies the federal government cited to justify listing polar bears as a threatened species.

Their e-mail appeared to contradict Palin's assertions that state wildlife officials had found no reason to list the bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Palin wrote in January that she based her opposition to listing the bears on "a comprehensive review by state wildlife officials of scientific information from a broad range of climate, ice and polar bear experts."

Palin created a commission to plan for how the state will try to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and plan to adapt to warming, but she hasn't set any emission reduction goals for Alaska.

"It's like asking somebody to construct a stadium without giving them a blueprint," said Kate Troll, the director of Alaska Conservation Voters.

Recently, Palin publicly said she would vote no on a state initiative that said no large metal mines would be permitted to pollute streams where salmon spawn. The initiative was aimed at the Pebble mine near Bristol Bay, a major fishery. Voters defeated it on Tuesday.

Palin hasn't made a definitive statement about the mine, but the initiative was targeted at it.

Troll said Palin has been a supporter of state funding for renewable energy initiatives, but has a "failing record" on wildlife.

She also said the governor supports hunting wolves and bears from the air to reduce predation on moose and differs with environmentalists on a number of wildlife issues.

The League of Conservation Voters, an advocacy group that backs pro-environment candidates, said it was disappointed with McCain's choice.

"Unfortunately, with her support for drilling in the Arctic Refuge and off our coasts, Governor Palin will simply continue the failed policies of the Bush-Cheney administration and their Big Oil friends -- policies that could make us even more dependent on foreign oil," League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski said in a statement.

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