Empire editorial: Side with Alaska not the auto industry on global warming

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007

Even people who voted against Gov. Sarah Palin like the way she's started her term by cleaning up messes inherited from Frank Murkowski.

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Already she's put Murkowski's much-maligned jet up for sale and killed the one-lane "pioneer road" slated for north of Juneau. (Nobody should jump to the conclusion that Palin is nixing a road out of the capital. She simply trashed an ill-conceived project and a questionable contract award.)

Palin would do well to dump another of Murkowski's terrible ideas: fighting a Supreme Court lawsuit that would make the federal government reduce the auto emissions that contribute to global warming. If Alaska belongs in this fight at all, it should be on the other side.

Global warming is already hurting Alaskans more than it's affecting most other Americans.

Yet Murkowski's administration chose to side with automaker Michigan and six other states against 12 states that want to force the Bush administration to curb emissions.

The car industry would naturally fight the cleanup. No big surprise there. So how many cars does Alaska produce?

If the state wins this lawsuit, it ends up a loser. Rising temperatures are already changing the lives of rural Alaskans.

Villagers in Shishmaref, 100 miles southwest of Kotzebue, have watched global warming swallow parts of their town. A rapid loss of sea ice is causing the village's shoreline to erode at an average of 10 feet a year. Like those in several other Alaska towns, Shishmaref leaders want to move the coastal village before the sea devours more homes, but they need $180 million to do it. That's a better use for state money than lawyer's fees.

Erosion and flooding affect 184 of Alaska's 213 Native villages, and both are expected to worsen as the ocean warms and rises, shrinking buffers of shorefast ice.

And as sea ice disappears, coastal Natives who harvest seals, whales and other marine life have to travel farther to feed their families.

In late December, the Bush administration announced polar bears are in peril and need more government protection because melting arctic ice is destroying their stomping grounds and threatening their existence. Maybe the federal government is on the wrong side of the emissions lawsuit as well.

British scientists recently predicted that rising levels of greenhouse gases are likely to make 2007 the world's hottest year ever.

Meanwhile, Alaska is in court arguing against controls on greenhouse gases. It stands logic on its head.

Not only is the state fighting a lawsuit that could ultimately help Alaskans, it's also engaged in a struggle that could further tarnish Alaska's less-than-shining image on the national scene.

The state is claiming the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge can be opened to development in environmentally responsible ways. Meanwhile it's fighting a case aimed at making big industry more environmentally responsible.

Bridges to nowhere and other bad decisions have brought enough ridicule Alaska's way. We don't need more bad press by acting so blatantly against our own interests.

Palin has already shown she wants to drop government projects that can't be justified and to solve leftover problems. Alaska's participation in the clean-air lawsuit is one of those problems. And it's a big one.

If Palin is serious about cleaning the gubernatorial house, she'll see that this one is too big for the household trash can. It's time to order a Dumpster.

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