DECOLONIZING YOUR NEWSFEED
Mid-May mailers from candidates running in Alaska's special primary in June to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Don Young who died in March. Jenni Monet
CLIMATE SILENCE | 05.29.22
One of the wildest races in American politics is heating up as fast as the North Arctic. In Alaska, mailboxes are stuffed with flyers from some of the 48 contenders campaigning to finish the term
vacated by Representative Don Young, the legendary congressman who died in March. Voters have until June 11 to pick just one candidate. From there, the top four vote-getters will square off in a special general election determined by ranked-choice ballot in August. All of this unravels while the regular election for Young’s seat takes place in
the lead-up to the general election in November – and by many of the same candidates. If any of this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. It’s the first time anything like it has been carried out in Alaska to the point where no one really knows what to expect.
And it’s an important race. Like all other midterm elections, these contests will help forecast what remains of President Biden’s first term. This includes whether Congress will pass before Election Day his proposed budget, with almost $45 billion set aside to deal with
global warming. Republicans could retake control of one or both chambers of Congress further derailing Biden’s climate goals already saddled with setbacks and war. So, the stakes are high.
It’s true, the president’s $5.8 trillion budget, overall, is ambiguous if not contradictory at times in how the federal government will address the nation’s leading contributors to
greenhouse gas emissions. This includes vehicles. One Department of Transportation program would actually encourage more driving by building new highways and fixing existing roads and bridges. Just 15% of the agency’s budget would go toward mass transit, according to one projection. Meanwhile, permitting for more oil and gas drilling would continue.
There are warning signs ahead. No truer is this reality than in Alaska where, this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met with the Iñupiaq leaders of Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) to discuss next year’s construction of a $5 million seawall. Rising sea levels threaten the
coastal community. Meanwhile, the NOAA, last month, designated a giant swath of warming waters in the Arctic as “critical habitat” that endanger the ringed and bearded seals – subsistence sources that the Iñupiaq and Yu’pik have survived on since the dawn of time.
“This is a national and international emergency, and it's really nothing that we should be playing politics with,” said George Donart, a volunteer organizer with the Alaska branch of the Citizens Climate Lobby.
Coastal erosion in Utqiagvik, formerly Barrow, Alaska U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Alaska Division
in one of the most imperiled places on the planet, one would think that Alaska’s adoption of rank choice voting, which boosts candidates of any political stripe based on popularity, would have inspired a climate candidate to run for office. It hasn’t. Instead there’s only climate silence.
In a field of 55 candidates for one U.S. House seat including those running in the general primary, and 18
others in the race to oust Lisa Murkowski from the U.S. Senate, fewer than 2% are addressing our environment like the life and death situation that it is. Roughly a third more are campaigning on platforms that promote “energy independence.” Such buzz words in the Far North mostly translate into drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a reminder of the fossil fuel industry’s firm grip on Alaska, but on
Barb Bingham, another volunteer organizer with CCL, said the role of the environmental voter needs to be considered. “Rank choice is good for climate policy, but it's not going to happen automatically. We're going to really have to push,” said Bingham. “Every one of us needs
to be asking every one of our candidates ‘what are your solutions for the problems that we're facing?’”
Right now, those voter interests aren’t coming across really anywhere at the national polls, except one place: Texas’s 28th Congressional District. Predominantly Latin American, voters there suffered a deadly freeze, last year. This year, they’re throwing their support
behind immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros who stands a fighting chance after this week’s Democratic primary remains too close to call. Her oppenent, Rep. Henry Cuellar is one of the biggest recipients of fossil fuel money in Congress. Cisneros, on the other hand, has vowed to reject any donation linked to the oil and gas industry.
Alaska At-Large U.S. House Candidate, Sarah Palin in Fairbanks, Alaska Jenni Monet
It makes Alaska not an impossible place to challenge the political status quo, the sixth leading oil producer in the country and a state easily won twice by Donald Trump. But the former president is helping set a polarizing tone in the Alaska midterms, endorsing “drill, baby, drill” Sarah Palin and also election fraud theorist, Kelly Tshibaka. More than anything, Trump’s involvement is vindictive; he still hasn’t forgiven Sen. Murkowski for voting to confirm his impeachment last year and
wants Tshibaka to replace her. But there’s also unfinished business with drilling the ANWR, an oil ambition Trump advanced in his final days as president but that was paused by Biden on Day One.
“It’s all about balance,” said Palin who has prioritized oil extraction in the ANWR as a top campaign priority in her race for the U.S. House. I met up with the former governor and vice-presidential candidate last month at the start of the Alaska Republican Convention in Fairbanks. Clutching a
glittery handbag with the acronym “MAGA” emblazoned on the front, she said her energy ambitions were no different than the man whose seat she aims to fill. “I had so much respect for Don Young and everything that he stood for. His passion for Alaska and resource development – responsibly – that is what I’m all about.”
But for the only Alaska Native progressive running for Congress, “responsible development” has become another catchphrase that has allowed Mary Peltola (Yup’ik) to hew largely toward more fossil fuel production while hardly mentioning the words “climate change” at
all. Earlier this month in a candidate forum, Peltola professed her support for oil exploration of “a small sliver” in the ANWR. When the Anchorage Daily News tweeted about it, she responded to her audience of some 800 followers. “Alaskans have consistently supported exploration in this area,” she said. “Studies show minimal impact on local subsistence species & huge benefits to
our local economy.”
That same week, one of the largest delegations of Gwich’in leaders made the long journey to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress and the Biden Administration to restore environmental protections to
their homelands, the Arctic Refuge. But you heard nothing of these Alaskans on the campaign trail. Only more climate silence.
This essay was a bit of a heavy lift because there is so much to write about including wildfires taking over my beloved New Mexico 💔. Here are a few things that I wanted to fit into my essay but, editorially, chose to share here instead.
- For those who like to read dense legal briefs like I do, here’s the complaint filed last week for U.S. v. The State of Alaska alleging how the state mismanaged federal subsistence fishing rights for rural Alaskans, further threatening the Chinook
And while you're spring cleaning, listen to another caustic grilling that
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recently met when sharing the Department’s budget proposal to the Senate Energy Committee.
It helps set the tone for what we can expect this election season. It also plays like a sequel. The mostly white and male gang of lawmakers are the ones who harangued Haaland as part of her confirmation process, last
- And if you listen closely to the hearing, you’ll note that wildfires are of top of mind for many politicians whose western states are grappling with a 1200 year drought. It’s true – 1200 years. Here’s the full study, and here’s the quick take from the Times.
- Lastly, a fun little quiz from NASA about what you think you know about climate change. I admit, I fumbled on a question or two.
This newsletter was actually ready to go last week, but heavy fog moved into the Arctic knocking out my Internet connection before I could send it out. I’m happy to say that I’m one step closer to remedying my Wifi woes with fancy satellite technology – though, it could take a
few weeks. On another note, I hope some focus on the midterms has allowed you to take a break from the heavy news cycle out of Uvalde, this week. I’m not a parent, but one doesn’t need to be to reel from all that we’ve learned. Tune out when needed and practice compassion.
With care 🌎,
Number of candidates in the primary race for Alaska’s U.S. House Seat left vacant by the late Don Young: 48
Total number of candidates who are Alaska Native: 4
Number of top vote-getters who will advance to a special general election in August: 4
Exact rate that former VP candidate and U.S. House contender, Sarah Palin charges for a personalized video message via Cameo: $199
Exact total of President Biden's proposed budget for fiscal year 2023: $5.8T
Estimated amount set aside to address climate change: $45B
Total amount to allow for more permitting for oil and gases leases on public lands: $1.4B
For offshore: $237M
Total price of oil per barrel according to the global benchmark, Brent crude futures, closing May 20: $130
Total number of barrels of oil produced by Texas in 2020, America’s top crude oil producer: 1,782,030
In Alaska, the sixth leading crude oil producer: 163,852
Exact ranking that U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski is listed in the top 20 recipients of oil and gas campaign contributions by all members of Congress: 6
Total amount she has received this year: $263,358
Amount ConocoPhillips spent in the first three months of 2022 to lobby for final approval
for a delayed oil project in the now protected National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska: $4.6M
Number of Gwich’in leaders photographed, marking the tribe’s largest delegation to ever visit Washington, D.C.: 17
The EPA Moves to Block the Pebble Mine
Seeks Public Comment by July 5
Citing its authority under the 1972 Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed on Wednesday a legal determination that would ban the disposal of mining waste in the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska. It's one of the world’s most valuable sockeye salmon fisheries
relied upon by 25 Native nations, and that also sits atop enormous copper and gold deposits long coveted by mining companies.
This determination could finally but an end to one project that's been debated for longer than a decade: the proposed Pebble Mine.
Opposition, from Alaska Native communities, environmentalists and the fishing industry never diminished, and even Mr. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., a sportsman who had fished in the region, came out against the project. Now you can, too.
EPA Region 10 will accept public comments at public hearings and by written submissions through July 5, 2022. To help you prepare:
Please welcome Jesse Foley-Tapia to Indigenously
Thanks to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Berkeley Journalism graduate student Jesse Foley-Tapia will be helping grow Indigenously for a couple of months during his summer internship. Please learn more about him and take in a few of his stories here and here.
"Nice job summing up a difficult and expansive issue."
ICYMI: The last edition of Indigenously unpacked the "Twin Policy" behind Federal Indian boarding schools. Thanks to Brian and many others for reading in. Since then, the New York Post came out with a
piece that doubts unmarked graves were ever discovered at a residential school in Canada. You can bet there's outrage.
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