Obama’s energy remark baffles Alaska senators

In his final State of the Union address last night, President Obama never mentioned Alaska or the Arctic, but for a state that’s as dependent on oil as Alaska is, one passage really stood out. It baffled both of Alaska’s senators.

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The passage begins with Obama saying it’s time to accelerate the move away from “dirtier” energy.

“Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future, especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. We do them no favor when we don’t show them where the trends are going. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources so that they better reflect the cost they impose on taxpayers, and the planet.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says it sure got her attention. Not a minute before that point in the speech she says she’d been applauding Obama, for promoting U.S. leadership in clean energy technology.

“I am all over that. That’s what we’re trying to do within the Energy Committee.”

Then, the senator says, Obama said the puzzling bit, about tying oil resource management to larger costs.

“And I turned to my seatmate to the left, who was Marco Rubio, and I said, ‘what do you think *that *means?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know but it doesn’t sound good.’”

When asked what the passage might mean for Alaska, a White House representative said more will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, says she got no heads-up about the passage, but she intends to find out more. She figures the president may have been hinting at a cap-and-trade carbon program. Or limiting development on federal land. Or, Murkowski says, maybe increased taxes on the oil industry.

“I thought that his words were probably purposefully opaque.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan said he didn’t know what to make of it either, but he called the passage disturbing.

“I don’t know what more costs the president can impose on the energy sector in Alaska. But when our state is struggling with fiscal challenges and layoffs, that certainly was not a good message to hear from the president of the United States.”

Sullivan says what he did like was hearing Obama’s description of the national character.

“Look, I always like when the president talks about the unique, optimistic spirit of America. I love that. I believe that. It’s who we are as a people. It’s definitely who we are as Alaskans.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young was entirely unmoved by the president’s words. Young issued a taped statement afterward.

“I just spent an hour and five minutes listening to one of the – I think – most discouraging speeches I’ve listened to in the State of the Union addresses.”

In Young’s assessment, Obama lectured Congress about his vision and held lawmakers at fault for not following it.


Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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