OPINION: As our state melts and burns, Murkowski is gung-ho on fossil fuels

Record heat in Anchorage. Record drought causing record wildfires one Interior resident likened to a “war zone.” Hazardous smoke as far away as Nome that one climate expert called “stunning.” Then, in “weather whiplash extraordinaire,” our state was slammed by record rainfall that flooded Mat-Su homes. Alaska’s summer from hell has arrived, and it’s only a glimpse of the suffering to come, as Alaska warms twice as fast as the Lower 48. As a hunter, fisherman, and lover of wild places, I fear every day for our Alaskan way of life.

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s website doesn’t even mention climate change among her issues and priorities. In fact, not only is Murkowski apparently unperturbed that a Connecticut-sized swath of Alaska has burned this year, she’s energetically pouring fuel on our record- setting fires.

Murkowski calls ConocoPhillips’s Willow Project – a mega-extraction of North Slope oil and gas – her “top priority.” She has pumped the project tirelessly, including urging the Interior Department not to extend Willow’s 45-day comment period that fell during Alaskans’ busiest months for earning cash and putting up subsistence foods – so that ConocoPhillips can begin construction this winter.

Why is Murkowski so gung-ho about a Texas-based corporation’s fossil fuel project during our deepening climate crisis? She claims Willow is “critical to Alaska’s economy.” Indeed, ConocoPhillips’s website estimates Willow will deliver $1.3 billion in Alaska state revenues over 30 years – which sounds like a lot, until you realize that fighting Alaska’s 2022 wildfires alone cost more than $300 million (and that doesn’t include costs to Alaskans whose lands and homes were torched). By the time Willow’s oil comes online six years from now, Alaska will have already spent our projected revenues suffering through climate damages.

With the oil so many years in the future, Willow will also fail to achieve Murkowski’s other talking points: reducing high gasoline costs or providing energy security. But there’s one thing greenlighting Willow will definitely achieve: boosting ConocoPhillips’s share prices.

According to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan tracker of campaign finance and lobbying, Sen. Murkowski has taken nearly $450,000 from the oil and gas industry for her re-election campaign, the largest share of which came from – you guessed it – ConocoPhillips.

Of course, Murkowski’s rival from the right, Kelly Tshibaka, is no better: a climate-change denier promising to “unleash our full energy potential” and railing on the Biden administration and – absurdly – Sen. Murkowski for their “radical environmental agenda.”


In our new ranked-choice voting, Murkowski is counting on Alaskans like me to see her as the lesser of two evils. She wants a gold star for “believing” in human-caused climate change, while Alaskans’ homes are burning, flooding, and tumbling into the sea. But I’m afraid I have a higher bar for my leaders than acknowledging basic reality. Between Murkowski’s and Tshibaka’s climate and energy policies, I don’t see an inch of daylight. If Murkowski wants my vote, she must act.

Murkowski has hinted at climate action before. In a detail-light Washington Post opinion co-authored with Sen. Joe Manchin, Murkowski committed to “bipartisan solutions to help address climate change.” But her vote against the Inflation Reduction Act – which makes massive investments in renewable energy and which, by the way, will bring far more money to Alaska than Willow – shows Murkowski’s climate promises are empty. Her promises to ConocoPhillips are binding.

Ranked choice voting is said to favor “moderate” candidates. But there is nothing moderate about altering the very chemistry of our planet. There is nothing moderate about jeopardizing our Alaskan way of life – burning our lands and warming our salmon streams – so that your corporate donors can profit.

Until Murkowski does something – anything – about humanity’s greatest crisis, I will be ranking Alaska stalwart Pat Chesbro No. 1 and leaving my No. 2 slot blank.

Zachary Brown is an Alaska climate scientist and co-director of Tidelines Institute, an education and leadership nonprofit in Southeast Alaska.

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