Providence Journal: Alaska, Rhode Island share concern over oceans
The differences between Rhode Island and Alaska are many. There’s size. There’s location.
But one thing that unites the two states is their connection to the ocean, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said to an audience of Rhode Island officials, environmental advocates and scientists on Friday.
“I don’t care how many miles of coastline you have, big or small, the fact is that our oceans are this common connector here,” she said at an environmental conference hosted annually by Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
Those shared ties are what brought Murkowski, a Republican, and Whitehouse, a Democrat, together as the founders of the Senate Oceans Caucus, a bipartisan group of 38 senators that has worked to curb illegal fishing and to clean up marine trash, and is in the midst of crafting legislation to improve the monitoring of ocean health.
“She is a person of great courage, of great dignity, of great clout in the Senate and someone who cares enormously about oceans and climate,” Whitehouse said of Murkowski.
Murkowski delivered the keynote speech at the ninth annual Energy, Environmental and Ocean Leaders Day. In this era of partisan rancor, her presence alone at the conference may have been notable. She is a moderate Republican who, despite vigorously backing the fossilfuel industry in Alaska, has been unequivocal in acknowledging climate change.
Earlier at the event, Penn State geophysicist Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist, praised Murkowski, saying that she “is engaged in a good faith debate over what we do about problems like climate change.”
But Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has also been criticized for what some say are contradictory positions. After being greeted by a standing ovation, Murkowski spoke for about 45 minutes, during which she talked of her support for fossil fuels.
“I’m proud to do that in a responsible way, an environmentally responsible way, in a way that allows for our state’s economy to grow, in a way that allows our nation to be less dependent on others,” she said.
“But,” she continued, “I also am one who believes very strongly that we must do more when it comes to reducing our levels of emissions in our country and around the globe.”
Alaska is feeling the effects of climate change, through the loss of sea ice, permafrost and glaciers, she said. She applauded efforts to develop small hydropower facilities, wind farms and other renewable energy sources to cut down on emissions that are driving global warming.
“Climate change is not some hypothetical,” she said. “It is not some theory out there. It’s not something that can be ignored. We, in the Arctic, are on the front lines.”
Murkowski and fellow moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, have been the focus of much attention lately because their votes are seen as key in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is a critic of environmental regulations that include rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Murkowski did not mention the nomination in her speech.
It was Murkowski’s first visit to Rhode Island. She and her husband flew in from Washington and in the afternoon were set to visit the Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore wind farm in the nation.
“It says a lot about how you have come together to determine the success of a project like this when you can bring on a five-turbine, 30-megawatt wind farm and do that without some of the controversies that we’ve seen elsewhere,” she said.