House votes to create commission on climate change

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2006

The state House on Thursday endorsed creating a commission that would advise how Alaska communities can deal with the erosion, floods and thawing permafrost brought by global climate change.

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The group would be charged with assessing the effects and costs of global warming on Alaskans, the state's natural resources and its economy.

It would also recommend policies and regulations for communities hurt by erosion, plus give general recommendations on how to decrease the negative effects of climate change.

"It would not be so much to focus on who's to blame for what's happening, but what can we do to plan," said Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, the sponsor of the resolution.

Joule's background statement on the commission says climate change is already affecting 184 coastal and river communities in Alaska. The trends mean the thawing of the permafrost is likely to continue, along with changes to wildlife habitats and polar sea ice, the resolution reads.

Economic effects of global climate change are not being addressed, according to the resolution. The trends have consequences for the state's fisheries, its oil-drilling season and tourism, Joule said.

The House voted 29-0 in favor of forming the commission after House Resources Co-Chairman Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, backed up Joule's comments and said his committee would provide the staff to do the commission's legwork this summer.

The commission would be made up of 11 people, a mix of legislators and public members. Public members would include experts in climate change, land management and wildlife, as well as people from affected communities and businesses.

The resolution says the commission will conduct eight hearings around the state and deliver a preliminary report of its findings by next March. A final report and recommendations would be due Jan. 10, 2008.

Susanne Fleek, a program officer with the Alaska Conservation Foundation, said the commission would fill a gap in the state's knowledge of global climate change.

Scientists are studying what's happened and what is going to happen, but nobody is asking what is going to be done about it, she said.

"We're already behind the eight ball on this one," Fleek said. "This is not an environmental issue, this is something that is affecting all Alaskans."

The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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