Alaska elected leaders differ on cause of and response to climate change

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

All of the officials answered by email, except for House Speaker Mike Chenault, who was asked the same questions over the phone. Senate President Charlie Huggins was traveling and unable to respond, an aide said.

Do you believe there is a human-caused element to climate change?

Gov. Sean Parnell: "Climate change is occurring. Both human and natural elements, like volcanic eruptions, are responsible."

Sen. Mark Begich: "I do believe that but the practical effects of climate change are where we need to direct this conversation."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, through spokesman Robert Dillon: "She's never denied climate change. She believes that human activity is a contributing factor to changes in the climate."

Rep. Don Young, through spokesman Mike Anderson: He "does not challenge that change is occurring, but questions to what extent man-made emissions are responsible for the change."

House Speaker Mike Chenault: "I think that there is. To what extent there is, is the argument, I believe."

Alaska is a leading producer of hydrocarbons. We export coal. And Alaska is seeing some of the most extreme results of climate change. What is the responsibility of Alaska leaders to reduce that effect?

Parnell: It is the state's responsibility to protect the health of its citizens which can take several different forms, including regulating emissions.

Begich: It's true over the long term we need to reduce our reliance on these fuels. (But)in places like Fairbanks, we don't have many other options for fuel right now. Coal does make more sense than fuel oil right in the near term. So I have supported displacing fuel oil there with the Healy #2 plant and worked with the EPA to make that happen. I strongly support investments in efficiency and bringing down the costs of renewable energy, but we aren't going to change overnight the fact that this nation runs on oil and gas.

Murkowski: She "has always said that climate change is impacting Alaska and that we should take reasonable steps to reduce emissions. Where she has differed with this administration and some in Congress is over the best approach. She does not believe policies that make energy more costly for families - especially in Alaska, where energy is already very expensive - or that hurt our economic competitiveness are helpful."

Young: "Alaska is witnessing the effects of climate change more so than any other state in the nation, and this has caused some in Congress to use our state as an example for the need to curb these effects. However, certain proposals seek to legislate a solution to a problem we do not fully understand, and if enacted, could result in drastic consequences for Alaska's and the country's energy, economy and national security."

What if anything do you propose doing? What are you doing?

Parnell: "We must respond to changing shorelines as they affect some of our communities. Some examples: The state has provided financial assistance and assets to relocate the village of Newtok to Metarvik. Also, funding has been approved for an evacuation route from Kivalina. The state has also set a goal of 50 percent of Alaska's power to be generated by renewable resources by 2025 and spent many hundreds of millions of dollars toward this effort."

Begich: "I don't have a solution that gets 60 votes in the Senate or many at all in today's House of Representatives. I can tell you that we need a comprehensive legislative solution, because regulation from agencies via court decisions isn't going to work that well over the long term. ... In the meantime, I'll be pushing interim steps that are good for our economy: promoting LNG as a marine fuel, working for acceptance of fish-friendly hydropower as renewable power in federal standards, and making smart investments in wind power and biomass to replace high cost diesel fuel in rural Alaska and so on."

Murkowski: She "has repeatedly called for action based on consensus proposals that can pass Congress. She has worked with the chairman of the Energy Committee, Sen. (Ron) Wyden, to advance a number of bills that would responsibly reduce emissions -- including two hydropower bills that have now been signed into law, and a bipartisan efficiency bill that came to the Senate floor just last week. The science of climate change indicates a problem, but not a legislative solution. There are actually a number of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without imposing mandates or driving up energy costs."

Chenault: "I think it's a double-edged sword. We're trying to cut our carbon emissions because we feel that there's a threat but yet other countries don't have the same feeling we do as far as carbon emissions."

What is your position on a carbon tax?

Parnell: "Oppose. Additional taxes are not the answer. They merely shift more costs to Alaskans with no demonstrated benefit to Alaskans for those costs."

Begich: "I do not support a carbon tax. Any steps we take to mitigate the effects climate change must also make economic sense and be weighed against the fact that Alaskans already pay the second-highest energy prices in the entire country."

Murkowski: "She's pressed for policies that reduce emissions without imposing unbearable energy costs on Alaskans - who already pay some of the highest energy prices in the country. "

Young: He "does not support a carbon tax, because increasing the tax burden on Alaskan families in a time of economic turmoil and sky high energy costs would be crippling."

Chenault: Doesn't support one.


Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.