Lisa Says, Let Alaska Melt

Our guest bloggers are Daniel J. Weiss, a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and Jaren Love.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) plans to offer an amendment that would block enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Her “Dirty Air Act” amendment would delay progress in reducing pollution. Meanwhile, global warming continues to plague Alaska, threatening its people, economy and even the oil industry. So why would Lisa Murkowski promote a Dirty Air Act that ignores her state? Big oil and other special interests have loaded her campaign coffers with cash and even helped with an earlier version of her proposal.

Her amendment would block action required by the Clean Air Act and mandated by the US Supreme Court three years ago. Her spokesperson “acknowledged that the chances of actually stopping EPA global warming rules are minimal,” which suggests that her efforts are brazenly political, and designed to curry favor with big oil rather than address our energy needs.

Murkowski’s efforts to block pollution reductions conflicts with Alaska’s interests. Her state is on the front lines of global warming impacts in the United States. Over the past 100 years, some parts of Alaska have experienced temperature increases of up to 4°F, which is more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States. The U.S. Global Change Research Program determined that “climate change impacts are much more pronounced [in Alaska] than in other regions of the United States.”


Alaska’s warming threatens its people. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report determined that global warming has “imminently threatened” 31 Alaska villages because of coastal erosion, flooding and climate change. Twelve of these villages are already beginning a relocation process. In 2006, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated that relocating Shishmaref (a barrier island town of 600 residents on the state’s west coast) would cost $200 million. The cost for relocating other villages would be similar, so it could cost up to $2.4 billion to move all of these villages.

Climate change in Alaska could also harm the oil industry. Oil exploration and production are threatened by warmer temperatures that have shortened the winter season necessary for construction of ice roads essential for exploratory and drilling activities. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources found the ice road season has dropped from 200 days per year to 100 days per year over the last 30 years. The Global Change Research report found that “this results in a 50 percent reduction in days that oil and gas exploration and extraction equipment can be used.” Oil production has also decreased in the summer due to warmer temperatures, reducing compressor efficiency.

Global warming could further harm Alaska’s economy by damaging its infrastructure. Evidence shows that roads, buildings, pipelines and power lines built on top of permafrost may shift, warp or collapse from the thawing. These damages could add $3.6 to $6.1 billion (10–20%) to future costs of public infrastructure between now and 2030.

Despite the global warming threat to Alaska, Senator Murkowski launched efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act last September. She consulted big oil and other special interest lobbyists to advise her on this legislative assault. Jeffrey R. Holmstead and Roger R. Martella Jr have clients who would gain from a weaker Clean Air Act and status quo energy policies. The Anchorage Daily News reported that “Holmstead’s clients include the CSX railroad, Arch Coal, Duke Energy and Progress Energy…Martella’s clients include the National Alliance of Forest Owners and the Alliance of Food Associations.”

Senator Murkowski attempted to diminish the assistance provided by these lobbyists. The Washington Post, however, reports that both Holmstead and Martella briefed a number of staffers from other Senate offices on the draft Murkowski amendment.

“Holmstead and Martella dominated the opening of the meeting by describing how the revised amendment had answered the attacks lodged by some Democrats and environmental groups.”

Senator Murkowski’s staff did not contradict this report that big oil and coal lobbyists briefed other staffers on her amendment at a meeting convened by her office.


Why would Lisa Murkowski neglect threats to her state, and instead offer the Dirty Air Act favored by big polluters? It may be that big oil has been kind to her. Beginning with her first Senate race in 2004, she received $365,813 from oil and gas interests. This election cycle, Murkowski is the third largest recipient of big oil campaign cash in the Senate. Now that big oil has denounced pollution reductions, Murkowski is listening.

Senator Murkowski claims that her Dirty Air Act is designed “to allow the legislative process to proceed. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to have a vote that will allow for that discussion.” Yet she has done nothing in the 111th Congress to support pollution reductions. She voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that invests $90 billion in clean energy jobs and research. Previously, she voted against bipartisan global warming legislation authored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), and skipped the vote on a bill1 by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), John Warner (R-VA), and Lieberman (I-CT).

Clean energy reform and global warming pollution reductions would spur new investments, create jobs, increase American energy independence and cut global warming pollution. It could help the Alaska oil and gas industry, and protect Alaska villages from erosion and floods linked to warmer temperature. Rather than attempt to weaken the Clean Air Act, Senator Murkowski should join Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in their efforts to develop and pass comprehensive legislation that would achieve these goals.