Gov. Bill Walker will fly to Washington, D.C., Sunday so that he can fly back to Anchorage on Air Force One with President Barack Obama for the president's visit to Alaska, according to Walker's office.
The president's invitation for the long-haul flight on what is arguably the world's sweetest ride came at the tail end of a day in which Walker told reporters of his plans to give Obama an earful on Alaska this week.
Earlier Friday, Walker said he plans to make the case to Obama that developing the state's fossil fuels can actually alleviate some of the causes and impacts of climate change.
As Walker sees it, tapping the North Slope's vast natural gas reserves can lower emissions in Alaska and elsewhere while helping provide revenue to develop renewable energy projects and better support relocation efforts for villages threatened by erosion.
That's an argument that could have significant sway with Obama, who has shown a strong allegiance to natural gas development throughout his administration, particularly given its carbon profile compared to coal.
"My goal is to spend as much time as possible with the president so I can clearly present to him the benefits our great state provides the nation," Walker said late Friday, adding that he hopes to discuss opportunities "to improve Alaska's economic situation."
Along with Walker's invitation to board Air Force One for the seven-hour flight to Anchorage came a more conciliatory tone toward the president.
"I also want to thank President Obama for his leadership in permitting Shell's exploratory drilling activities," Walker said. "It's an honor to accompany a sitting president to our great state."
Walker should have plenty of time to discuss a range of topics with Obama, and he has plenty in mind. Walker said earlier Friday that he hopes to push for swift permitting of Alaska's massive liquefied natural gas project and advocate against cutting troop levels in the state, given Russia's recent build-up of its Arctic military.
With Obama headed to Alaska to visit receding glaciers and talk with Alaskans about rising temperatures, Walker won't be able to avoid a discussion about climate change.
Walker, a Republican-turned-independent, is less interested in what's causing climate change than in its impacts on Alaska, he said. That means melting sea ice, erosion along formerly ice-protected coasts and softened pack ice that can prevent subsistence hunters from hauling in whales.
The governor has a long list of ideas he hopes to present to Obama:
• Building a natural gas pipeline will get cleaner-burning gas to Alaskans to replace the diesel fuel and wood burned sources across the state. Exporting the state's gas to other countries will also help replace diesel and reduce harmful emissions there. "There's no question natural gas is a much cleaner-burning fuel," Walker said.
• Revenues from a natural gas pipeline can be invested in long-term renewable energy projects, such as the "low-hanging fruit" of making buildings, including state facilities, more energy-efficient. Hydropower and geothermal projects are also a great opportunity in Alaska that can provide sustainable energy when gas reserves wane some 25 to 50 years from now. The state needs to be ready for the day when gas reserves are gone, he said. "We need to take revenue from (gasoline) and build an energy plan for Alaska that is sustainable 50 years from now."
• Walker agrees with the president that oil is a "bridge" fuel needed as the country shifts to other forms of energy. Asked about concerns that producing the estimated oil in the Arctic Ocean would drive global temperatures to dangerously high levels, Walker said oil will be needed during that transition. "We certainly won't be able to flip a switch and be on all renewable. There's a place for oil, and I prefer it be oil we have some benefit from, so I think that is a reconcilable issue."
• Access to oil and gas resources in Alaska, including offshore and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, can help provide the state with revenue needed to relocate villages such as Kivalina, an eroding Northwest Alaska community the governor recently visited. Moving the village will be expensive, and the federal government may not fund that. "I'll be talking to him about how we can't be limited from access to our resources from a financial sense and be expected to relocate villages at the same time."
• The governor said he will also stress that the state needs infrastructure to handle the increased shipping coming to the Arctic as sea ice melts and routes open for longer periods. "On the shipping side, one of the silver linings for us in a way is it opens up the Arctic shipping routes. We believe that's equivalent to the opening of the Panama Canal."