Members of a statewide climate change action team were waiting for official word from Gov. Mike Dunleavy on what his administration was envisioning for the future of the team.
There was no official word from the governor’s office until Friday evening — when the governor’s office sent an email to the members saying the team was disbanded. Through an administrative order Friday, Dunleavy rescinded seven previous administrative orders, including AO 289, which established the Climate Change for Alaska Leadership Team.
The team, which was established by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2017, was supposed to work together to provide advice and analysis for how the state can address climate change. In September 2018, the team presented the Alaska Climate Action Plan, a 38-page document that outlined a variety of options that could help the state address climate change-related issues including permafrost melt, coastal erosion and threats to Alaska’s fisheries.
Juneau resident Michael LeVine, a senior Arctic fellow for Ocean Conservancy and a member of the team, said he was disappointed at how abruptly and quietly Dunleavy dissolved the team.
“As far as I’m aware, the governor has not even shown the respect of announcing that he’s disbanded the leadership team or revoked the administrative order,” LeVine said by phone Saturday. “We had to find his administrative order on the website. I, at least, was taken totally off guard by receiving the letter.”
The team of 21 was supposed to work together over the span of three years, starting in December 2017, LeVine said. The group, which was previously chaired by former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, was only in place for half that time. Dunleavy, a Republican, had not had any official communication with the members of the team since taking office in December, LeVine said.
Matt Shuckerow, Dunleavy’s press secretary, said in a statement to the Empire that the governor repealed the former administrative orders for a variety of reasons. The previous administrative orders, Shuckerow said, were either no longer relevant, had already served their purpose, were not aligned with Dunleavy’s policy direction or “appear to have been made primarily for political or public relations purposes.” All of the administrative orders were issued by Walker, according to the statement.
“No governor should be tied to a previous administration’s work product or political agenda,” the statement said, “and nobody should be surprised to see Gov. Dunleavy make this decision.”
Dunleavy has said in press conferences that climate change is not a high priority for his administration. Shuckerow concluded his statement by saying Dunleavy’s focus is on public safety, protecting the Permanent Fund Dividend, promoting economic growth and balancing the budget.
LeVine didn’t want to speak for his fellow members of the team, but he said he didn’t expect this action. He was also vehement that climate change — especially in Alaska where the effects are so prevalent — should not be about politics.
“It is not a political issue,” LeVine said. “It is an Alaskan issue, and one that we have to take action to confront. Our communities, our economies, our ways of life are being affected by changing climate and the leadership team was at least a step in the direction of having the state think about how to tackle those problems.”
A similar scenario played out a few years ago. Former Gov. Sarah Palin had created a climate change subcabinet during her tenure as governor, which was then dissolved by ensuing Gov. Sean Parnell.
The recommendations of the climate team were nonbinding, meaning the governor and Legislature aren’t required to take any actions that the team recommended, according to the administrative order at the time. Walker’s administrative order came days after a group of teenagers sued the state for failing to have a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state, and critics expressed that Walker’s order was more about making it look like the administration was taking climate change seriously instead of actually taking action.
Still, LeVine said he’s proud of the work the team did and was looking forward to continuing it for the next year and a half.
“The abrupt manner in which the team was disbanded is particularly disappointing in light of all of that hard, collaborative work we did together,” LeVine said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.