Walker names members of Alaska climate leadership team

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker shows off the freshly signed Administrative Order 289 in the state Capitol on Oct. 31, 2017. That order established the Alaska Climate Change Strategy and Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Governor Bill Walker today announced the 20 members of the state’s new climate change task force.

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The team’s job is to come up with recommendations for how Alaska should deal with climate change. It was created by Walker in an administrative order issued this fall. The task force is led by Lt. Governor Byron Mallott.

In a statement, Gov. Walker said announcing the team “is another critical step in advancing meaningful climate policy.”

Alaskans representing a wide range of interests made the list. They include Fran Ulmer, chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, BP Alaska president Janet Weiss and North Slope Borough Assembly chair John Hopson, Jr. The team also includes experts on renewable energy and climate science.

Another notable member is 17-year-old Sam Schimmel from Kenai Peninsula and St. Lawrence Island. Schimmel is Siberian Yupik and Kenaitze Indian.

“The issue of climate change is very important for Native youth because it affects our traditions — our hunting traditions, our fishing traditions, our berry picking traditions,” Schimmel said.

Schimmel wants the team to tackle solutions to problems Alaska Native communities are already dealing with because of climate change so young people can keep taking part in important traditions.

“We must combat climate change and we must try and slow it down, but we must also address the slow-moving emergency that our communities face,” Schimmel said. “We need a definite end result, and that result would be giving aid to communities that allow communities to continue their traditions.”

Six of the team’s members were part of former Governor Sarah Palin’s Sub-Cabinet on Climate Change, including Chris Rose, executive director of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project. Rose hopes the group has more impact this time around.

“About ten years have passed and we’ve seen climate change accelerate. We’ve also seen the price of renewables come down tremendously in that decade, so I’m hoping that this time around, there’s a lot more action rather than recommendations,” Rose said.

Rose hopes a big priority for the team will be working on improving financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Alaska.

The group will meet for the first time on Dec. 18. The governor’s office wants an early draft of their recommendations by next September.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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