U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, speaks to the first in-person meeting of the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon in over a year at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday, June 10, 2021. Young told the crowd he was working toward bipartisanship but expressed frustration with opposition to the resource industry. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, speaks to the first in-person meeting of the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon in over a year at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday, June 10, 2021. Young told the crowd he was working toward bipartisanship but expressed frustration with opposition to the resource industry. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Energy is Alaska’s future, Young tells chamber

Face-to-face for the first time since the pandemic, Young is his old self

The most senior member Congress, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was the speaker at the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s first in-person luncheon in over a year. In his speech, Young told the crowd he was working toward bipartisan solutions but has met with staunch political opposition.

Young said there is increasing bipartisan recognition for the need to break the country’s reliance on China for minerals but that certain factions were predisposed to say ‘No’ to everything. The state had the opportunity to take advantage of its natural resources, particularly minerals and power generation sources, Young said, but there were people who were flatly opposed to the idea.

Alaska needs to diversify its economy, he said, but needed to do it in such a way that didn’t sacrifice one part for another.

“We have to have a change that doesn’t adversely affect the human race,” Young said, recalling traveling to Appalachia after the decline of the coal industry. “It was worse than any third world country, hundreds of people all on welfare.”

Young told the crowd Alaska should invest in producing cheap energy from its many renewable sources like wind, hydroelectric and geothermal but expressed frustration at the blanket opposition to development he sees in national politics. Young, like many of his Republican colleagues, said that Alaska’s environmental standards were among the highest in the world and resource development in the state would be a boon both economically and environmentally.

Young said at the luncheon climate change was real, but didn’t expand on what he believed to be causing it. Young told the Empire in 2018 he believed climate change was occurring but expressed skepticism it was caused by human activity. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the majority of global warming that’s occurred in the past 50 years is due to human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.

ExxonMobile shareholders recently elected two board members to the company’s board of directors who’ve promised to steer the company away from oil and gas, even as the company faces several lawsuits for withholding information about the impacts of climate change.

Young also said the receding ice in the Arctic provided an opportunity for Alaska as resources previously covered by ice were becoming more accessible.

“What ever grew in ice?” he quipped.

The event was attended in person by roughly 50 people, including Mayor Beth Weldon and Assembly members Carole Triem and Christine Woll. Members of the crowd asked Young what was being done to help the state’s ailing industries and how Alaska could diversify its economy. In his speech, Young said he was trying to get more land available in the state for agriculture cultivation to strengthen Alaska’s food security.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, thanked Young for his support of a recently passed bill allowing large cruise ships to sail to Alaska this summer.

“Congressman Young is always exciting,” Kiehl told the Empire after the speech saying he disagreed with some of Young’s comments but appreciated the commitment to bipartisanship. “The congressman and I have many differences, but we share an emphasis on solving problems.”

Triem said she agreed with Young’s expressed concern for young people, particularly when it comes to climate change.

“Young people really care about climate change because they’re the ones who are going to have to live with it.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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