My Turn: Obama’s Arctic insult

  • By Rich Moniak
  • Friday, March 18, 2016 1:03am
  • Opinion

Should President Barack Obama have consulted with Gov. Bill Walker and Alaska’s congressional delegation before establishing an Arctic agreement with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Absolutely. But even though the criticism leveled against the president is well justified, I think Walker is the only one who was really slighted.

Obama and Trudeau are using the historic Paris agreement as a springboard “to combat climate change and anchor economic growth in clean development.” They’ve pledged to develop low greenhouse gas emission strategies; reduce methane emissions at oil and gas sites; and endorse the World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 Initiative.

There’s more to the agreement, but it’s not loaded with any new or radical ideas. For instance, the goal of halting gas flaring associated with oil production has been on the World Bank’s agenda for 15 years. BP endorsed the Zero Routine Flaring initiative when it was launched last April. Shell and eight other major oil companies have signed on as well.

Of course, oil development is crucial to our state economy. That’s why Alaska’s political leaders have a vested interest in these issues. So why would Obama keep them in the dark?

One reason may be that last November Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan voted to block the new power plant emission regulations which are a major part of his climate change agenda. And Sullivan remains skeptical that human activity is contributing factor to climate change.

But Obama’s reasoning may have more to do with what’s happened since Mitch McConnell said his main goal as Senate Minority Leader was to ensure he was a one-term president. “If (Obama) was for it, we had to be against it” is how former Republican Sen. George Voinovich described that Republican obstructionist philosophy.

The current Supreme Court vacancy is a perfect example. Almost immediately after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans made it clear they had no intention of letting Obama appoint his replacement.

This week the president nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit who is widely considered a centrist. Six years ago Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah, referred to him as “a consensus nominee.” He says he still thinks highly of Garland but now he’s steadfastly opposed to holding confirmation hearings until after the election.

That wasn’t the position Murkowski initially took. “I do believe that the nominee should get a hearing,” she had said. But she quickly backpedaled. “Any nominee is likely to become a political football in the midst of this already contentious and divisive campaign season,” she now argues in concert with Hatch and the majority of their party.

Another example is the nuclear agreement with Iran. It got through the Senate only because Democrats blocked a vote which would have disapproved it. And earlier 47 Republican Senators (excluding Murkowski) wrongly interfered with the negotiations by sending a letter directly to Iran’s leaders.

There’s also the 2017 budget proposal Obama submitted to Congress. House Speaker Paul Ryan broke with all traditions by declaring it dead on arrival. The chairmen of the Senate and House budget committees even refused to invite Office of Management and Budget director Shaun Donovan to testify.

The list goes on. So it really shouldn’t surprise any Republican lawmaker when Obama bypasses them.

But if both sides are trading punches seven years after the fight broke out, why should it matter who created the divisive atmosphere? Someone needs to model better leadership. That’s why I think Obama should have brought in Alaska’s elected officials before making this agreement. Instead, he’s just given his opponents more ammunition.

And I can’t find any excuse at all for why Gov. Walker was excluded from the discussions. He’s never been part of the loosely principled opposition Obama has faced in Congress.

Walker was a Republican once. But now he’s an independent who staffed his cabinet with people of all political persuasions. Indeed, his decision to withdraw his party membership 18 months ago now seems presciently wise.

But mostly, in his brief tenure as governor, Walker hasn’t contributed to the political rancor that’s tearing the country apart. And for that reason he deserves even more respect from Obama.

That doesn’t mean the terms of the agreement need to change. If anything I’d like to see it strengthened. But ultimately it’ll need to be seen through by Obama’s successor. And in that regard our two senators should be satisfied with the same wait-and-see approach they’re using to deny Obama his pick for the Supreme Court.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.

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