Palin Comparison: The Not-So-Green Governor

Alaskan Greens Say McCain's VP Pick Has Anti-Environmental Record

John McCain's surprise pick of Alaska Gov.
Sarah Palin as his running mate has a lot of environmentalists in the
state worried about the influence she might have on the presidential
candidate's environmental policy. McCain has worked hard to portray
himself as a green Republican, but Palin has developed an
anti-environmental reputation during her 20 months as governor,
according to many in the state.

Her office in downtown Anchorage sits beside the ConocoPhillips
building. "When I look every day, the big oil company's building is
right out there next to me, and it's quite a reminder that we should
have mutually beneficial relationships with the oil industry," she said recently.
Most people in the Alaskan environmental community see her as an ally
of Big Oil, willing to set aside both science and the public good to
benefit the industry.

"I think it's a really extreme choice from a conservation
perspective," says Peter Van Tuyn, an Anchorage-based environmental
lawyer who has advocated for the state's native and conservation groups
on environmental concerns for the past 15 years. "Picking Palin moves
[McCain] even farther to right."

Like Van Tuyn, many enviros in the state express concern about her
push to open up more areas to oil and gas drilling, her stances against
protecting endangered species, and her past denials of anthropogenic
climate change.

But even environmentalists praise her for taking on political
corruption related to the oil and gas industry. And other observers
note that Palin has gone to battle against Big Oil on a number of
issues, most notably pushing through a big tax increase on oil
companies last year. "She's viewed ... as almost anti-oil" in her home
state, Alaskan GOP pollster Mark Hellenthal told the Associated Press. "She's probably pro-oil from a national perspective, but she's not in the pocket of Big Oil. She's fought them at every step."

An Inhospitable Climate

Palin's beliefs on global warming contrast sharply with those of
McCain, who has long warned about the dangers of human-caused climate
change and who in 2003 cosponsored the first major bill in the Senate
to address the problem. McCain consistently talks up his climate change plan on the campaign trail and in his TV ads.

Palin's got a different take. "A changing environment will affect
Alaska more than any other state, because of our location," Palin told Newsmax in an interview published on Friday. But, she added, "I'm not one, though, who would attribute it to being man-made."

In 2006, while running for governor, Palin said of climate change,
"I will not pretend to have all the answers," and cautioned against
"overreaction" on the issue. A Palin spokesperson in 2006 said, "She's
not totally convinced one way or the other. Science will tell us ...
She thinks the jury's still out."

After Palin joined McCain's ticket, her spokesperson said,
"Gov. Palin not only stands with John McCain in his belief that global
warming is a critical issue that must be addressed, but she has been a
leader in addressing climate change." Note that the statement dodges
the issue of whether humans are responsible for global warming.

"I wouldn't call her a climate change denier, but she is extremely
close to that position," John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska
Wildlife Alliance, told Grist. "She seems to be failing to acknowledge
virtually all credible science."

Still, Palin has taken some small steps on climate change, creating
a committee to develop Alaska's climate-change strategy and making
Alaska an observer, though not a member, of the Western Climate Initiative.

Drill Here, Drill Now

Palin has a complicated relationship with the oil industry. Last
year, she pushed through new oil taxes in Alaska, arguing that the tax
plan proposed by the previous governor, Frank Murkowski, was too
favorable to the industry. The new tax brought in about $6 billion
during the last fiscal year, contributing to an expected budget surplus
of as much as $9 billion. Palin used some of that excess to give each
Alaskan $1,200 to help them deal with rising energy costs.

Palin says that she, like McCain, opposes the idea of a "windfall
profits" tax on oil companies. And yet her strategy in Alaska looks an
awful lot like Barack Obama's plan to impose a windfall-profits tax and
use the money to give each American $1,000 to help offset pain at the
pump. Palin even praised some aspects of Obama's energy plan earlier this month.

With billions from the new oil tax pouring in to Alaska's treasury,
it's no wonder that Palin wants to give the oil industry more
opportunities to drill -- and more opportunities to be taxed. She has
been an avid supporter of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
to oil drilling, as well as offshore areas, and has even chastised the
Bush administration for not pushing hard enough to allow more drilling
in her state.

"We have so much potential from tapping our resources here in
Alaska. And we can do this with minimum environmental impact," she said
in her recent Newsmax interview.
"We have a very pro-development president in President Bush, and yet he
failed to push for opening up parts of Alaska to drilling through
Congress -- and a Republican-controlled Congress, I might add."

In the past, Palin has been critical of McCain's stance on drilling
in the refuge. "Sen. McCain is wrong" on the issue of oil drilling, she
said during a June 25 appearance on CNBC's "Kudlow & Company."
"I think he's going to evolve into eventually supporting ANWR opening
... I'd like the opportunity to change his mind about ANWR," she added.

While McCain previously opposed offshore drilling, this summer he changed his position;
he now calls for the moratorium on offshore drilling to be lifted. He
has long been a staunch opponent of drilling in the Arctic Refuge, but
he's been sounding a little less staunch lately. In June, he indicated at a campaign event in Missouri that he'd be "happy to examine it again."

"ANWR is something that so far Sen. McCain has stood strong on,"
said Alaska Wilderness League Executive Director Cindy Shogan. "We're
very concerned. Gov. Palin is a typical Alaska Republican. She wants to
drill everywhere regardless of the impacts on the environment and the

On Friday, McCain spokesperson Michael Goldfarb said, "Though Sen. McCain opposes drilling in ANWR, he continues to examine the issue in light of America's energy needs."

"I have really appreciated John McCain's hard work on the Arctic
Refuge in the past," said Van Tuyn, who has previously worked with
McCain on the issue. "It's just been great. But I have seen the man
change before my eyes on so many issues -- even offshore drilling --
and he's said recently he'd reconsider the Arctic Refuge." Van Tuyn
said that Palin's selection makes him worry that McCain could shift on
this issue as well.

Frank Maisano, who represents the energy industry with the law firm
Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, said Palin will lend some first-hand
knowledge of the oil industry to the Republican ticket.

"Anybody who has any understanding of the oil industry and what it
takes to get a barrel of oil out of the ground and to a consumer
eventually, and the hard work and complexity that goes into that, is
going to be a value," said Maisano. "Anybody that has to deal with
these industries on a regular basis like the governor of Alaska has to
is going to have a much deeper understanding of the complexity and the
difficulty of doing the work."

Despite her pro-drilling stance, Palin has expressed reservations about drills moving into Alaska's Bristol Bay, which Bush opened to drilling last year. Bristol Bay is home to the world's largest sockeye salmon population and other big salmon runs. Said Palin,
"the fear would be that our very rich fish resources would be put in
jeopardy." Her family owns a commercial fishing business. At the same
time, Palin's husband is an oil production operator for BP on Alaska's
North Slope.

Palin made a name for herself in Alaska a few years ago by fighting corruption
as chair of the Alaska Gas and Oil Conservation Commission from 2003 to
2004. She ended up resigning from the post to protest the "lack of
ethics" demonstrated by fellow Alaskan Republican leaders. Her campaign
for governor in 2006 was based largely on promoting transparency in
government; she pitted herself against the party establishment to
defeat incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski in the primary.

She has also gone head-to-head with Big Oil
over construction plans for a trans-Alaska natural-gas pipeline. She
wants one big enough that smaller companies can use it as well as the
oil giants, and she didn't like the terms the big companies had been
negotiating with the Murkowski administration, which she said would
have locked in pipeline-transit rates for decades and given the
companies "a sweet deal." ExxonMobil, ConocoPhilips, and BP have fought
her pipeline plan, but she's pushing ahead with it.

As for other forms of energy, there is some question as to where
Palin stands. McCain has talked up renewables during his campaign, but
Palin has been less bullish about their possibilities.
"Alternative-energy solutions are far from imminent and would require
more than 10 years to develop," she said earlier this month.

Still, some environmental leaders in the state say she has voiced
support for wind, hydro, and geothermal power, making her seem more
open to renewables than her predecessors in the statehouse. Kate Troll,
executive director of Alaska Conservation Voters, said Palin met with
her group and seemed enthusiastic about the potential for renewables.
But so far there's been little more than verbal support for alternative
energy sources.

"She presents a mixed bag of results. She's a real strong supporter
of drilling offshore and in the Arctic Refuge, and very strong on oil
and gas issues, but at the same time she's very strong on renewable
energy," said Troll. "How it all fits together, we don't know, because
she's never really articulated her energy policy." Troll says Palin
pledged in June to outline a comprehensive energy plan and appointed an
energy czar.

Clear and Present Endangerment

Another major concern for enviros is Palin's stance on
endangered species in the state. After the Bush administration's
Department of Interior listed the polar bear as a threatened species in May, the governor sued the department.
"We believe that the ... decision to list the polar bear was not based
on the best scientific and commercial data available," said Palin, who
also penned an op-ed in The New York Times on the subject.

Palin and other state officials expressed concern that listing polar bears as threatened would impair oil and gas development
in the state. Palin argued that the listing decision was based on "the
unproven long-term impact of any future climate change on the species"
and that a "comprehensive review" of the federal science by state
wildlife officials found no reason to support listing the bears as

But emails released
via a public-records request later showed that Alaskan state scientists
agreed with federal researchers that polar bears are threatened by
shrinking ice. "Overall, we believe that the methods and analytical
approaches used to examine the currently available information supports
the primary conclusions and inferences stated" in federal reports,
wrote Robert Small, head of the marine mammals program for the Alaska
Department of Fish and Game.

"This was the Bush administration Fish and Wildlife [Service]. It's
not like these people are bear-huggers," said Van Tuyn. "State
scientists looked at it and said that's the best science, and Palin
said, 'Keep your mouths shut,' and she turned around to the public and
said, 'I do not support listing the polar bear, the science doesn't
support it.'"

Palin has also opposed efforts to protect Cook Inlet beluga whales,
a genetically distinct population of whales located only in this
Alaskan inlet. Scientists estimate that they numbered 1,300 in the
'80s; now they're down to just 375. Environmental groups have been pressing for a listing to protect the whales, but Palin has urged the federal government
not to list, again citing threats to the oil and gas industry. "I am
especially concerned that an unnecessary federal listing and
designation of critical habitat would do serious long-term damage to
the vibrant economy of the Cook Inlet area," said Palin in a statement
last year.

Many in the state say she's demonstrated again and again a
willingness to protect business interests over environmental concerns.
"There isn't a threatened or endangered species that she likes in this
state," said Van Tuyn.

Palin has also drawn heat from conservationists for pushing to let
citizens shoot wolves from the air, and for supporting looser
bear-hunting rules aimed at reducing bear populations in order to
inflate numbers of moose and caribou, which draw big-game hunters to
the state. She opposed a ballot initiative to change the law so that
only Department of Fish and Game personnel could shoot wolves or bears
from the air. She drew even more criticism for using $400,000 of taxpayer money to "educate Alaskans" about "predator control." The ballot initiative was voted down last week.

"Decimating them with ongoing perpetual programs is in no way in
line with environmentally responsible predator management," said
Toppenberg of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. "The ecosystems up here are
intact, but they certainly won't be if we decimate the population in
order to artificially inflate the population of moose and caribou."

Mining vs. Salmon

Palin has come into criticism recently for using her post as
governor to influence a ballot initiative on clean water, which voters
also rejected last week. "Proposition 4" would have prohibited or
restricted new mining operations that could affect salmon in the
state's streams and rivers, and was crafted in order to prevent the
development of the Pebble Mine, which if approved would be the largest
open-pit gold and copper mine in North America. Toxic runoff from the
mine would threaten the Bristol Bay ecosystem,
and put drinking water at risk. It is widely opposed by commercial
fishers, native populations, and environmentalists in the state. While
state regulatory agencies will get the final say on granting permits
for the mine, the initiative would have made it considerably harder to
move forward.

Just days before the vote on the ballot initiative, Palin stated publicly
that she opposed it. "Let me take my governor's hat off just for a
minute here and tell you, personally, Prop. 4, I vote no on that," she
said. Groups that supported the measure argued that Palin's comments
were highly unethical. They also filed a legal complaint against the state government for improperly weighing in against Prop. 4 on the state's website.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission ordered the state to take down
the questionable web content, but said Palin's public statement was
permissible because she made it clear it was her personal opinion.
Polls before her statement showed voters strongly in favor of the
measure, but in the end nearly 60 percent of the public voted against it.

"Conventional wisdom around here is that [her statement] changed the
tide on the proposition, from narrowly passing to being defeated," said
Van Tuyn.

Richard Jameson of the Renewable Resources Coalition,
a nonprofit group that represents sportsmen, commercial fishermen, and
native subsistence users and that cosponsored Prop. 4, said it's been
hard to get Palin to listen to their concerns about potential damage to
fisheries. "We really haven't had a good dialogue with her on the
Pebble Mine or Prop. 4," he said. "On the bigger issue, Pebble Mine,
frankly we don't know how she stands."

On the Ticket

David Jenkins, government affairs director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, which endorsed McCain
last October, on Friday said he believes Palin "will defer to the top
of the ticket" on issues like the Arctic Refuge and climate policy. He
also said he thinks she will be an overall benefit to the ticket.

"[McCain's] campaign has shown no sign of wavering on the refuge, so
I don't think there's any reason to wring our hands over the pick of
someone from Alaska," said Jenkins. "I think it's sort of a
wait-and-see situation. She's a good choice from the standpoint of what
they need to do in this election."

But other national environmental groups see her selection as a sign
that McCain is moving to the right on energy and environmental issues.

"Gov. Palin will simply continue the failed policies of the
Bush-Cheney administration and their Big Oil friends -- policies that
could make us even more dependent on foreign oil," said League of
Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski. "Gov. Palin characterizes
McCain's flip-flop on drilling offshore as a positive step in his
transformation from maverick to Big Oil's best friend."

Of course, it's too early to know what sort of influence Palin will
have on McCain as a candidate, much less what influence should would
have if the two are elected this November. But her record in Alaska
does raise questions about the McCain campaign's commitment to
environmental protection and climate action.

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