President Barack Obama is taking his bully pulpit to the last American frontier.
The president will tour the Alaskan Arctic and meet with Americans who he said are experiencing firsthand the impact of rapidly melting Arctic ice during a visit to the state later this month, as the White House looks to focus attention on environmental issues ahead of global climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.
Global warming is among the most divisive issues in American politics, with many Republicans arguing that the administration’s climate initiatives are both unnecessary and detrimental to the economy. The issue has edged into the 2016 presidential campaign, as Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has proposed to dramatically increase the use of renewable energy sources.
“Alaskans are on the front lines of one of the greatest challenges we face this century: climate change,” Obama said in a video posted on the White House website Thursday. “Climate change once seemed like a problem for future generations. But for most Americans, it’s already a reality.”
Republicans in Congress and those vying for the party’s presidential nomination say Obama’s proposals to discourage the use of carbon-emitting fossil fuels will drive up energy bills and threaten jobs. They also argue that a United Nations climate agreement would put U.S. companies at a disadvantage.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged states to resist the power-plant regulations that the administration announced earlier this month. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of the Republican presidential contenders and who has acknowledged climate change is occurring, said the administration’s rules would result in “slowly hollowing out our economy.”
Obama’s trip has prompted concern among Alaska politicians that he may announce new executive actions on climate change while in the state. Republicans there say declining oil prices have already taken a toll on the local economy.
“The president of the United States doesn’t go to anybody’s state and stay three days and not do something,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said Aug. 6 at a breakfast with Bloomberg editors and reporters in Washington.
“So this is the talk about town. ‘Oh my gosh, what’s he gonna do? Is he going to lock up ANWR?’” she said, using an acronym for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “‘Is he going to put the Bering Sea canyons in as a marine protected sanctuary?’ We don’t have any idea.”
Obama will become the first sitting president to visit the Alaskan Arctic. In a multi-day tour of the state, he will meet with people directly experiencing the impact of climate change, the White House said. Obama will also address a State Department conference of scientists and policymakers from the U.S., European Union, and 19 other countries examining the effect of warming temperatures in the Arctic.
Warming global temperatures are leading to deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons and flooding in coastal cities at high tide, he said in the White House video. Glaciers and permafrost in Alaska are melting, he said, and hunting and fishing grounds are threatened.
“The state’s God-given natural treasures are at risk,” Obama said. “The alarm bells are ringing. And as long as I’m president, America will lead the world to meet this threat — before it’s too late.”
Before traveling to Alaska, the president will speak at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on August 24.