Assembly discusses climate change

Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is now committed to developing a climate change impact plan, following adoption of a resolution at last Tuesday's assembly meeting.

Voting 6-3, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly agreed to study and assess the borough's vulnerability to climate changes and to develop and implement an impact plan that could include such things as increasing energy efficiency, developing alternative energy supplies and reducing the use of fossil fuels.

No specific ideas have been adopted yet, but the assessment is expected to lead to a prioritized list of goals and targets to reduce the borough's exposure to detrimental effects of climate change, and enhance opportunities that may arise.

In passing Resolution 2007-069, the borough joins several state commissions and panels and at least one local community already engaged in identifying evidence of local climate change. They include the University of Alaska International Polar Year Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning (SNAP), the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP), the Denali Commission, Gov. Sarah Palin's Sub-Cabinet Panel on Climate Change, the Alaska Army Corps of Engineers, and Homer's Global Warming Task Force.

Scientists say ongoing research points to short-term and long-term impacts from climate change on the natural environment that will affect local communities, including increased risks of forest fires, floods and coastal erosion.

The assembly engaged in brief discussion about global warming and local climate change in relation to the need for a borough plan.

Assemblyman Paul Fischer of Kasilof argued against developing and paying for an impact plan. He said common sense should dictate ways to save, such as turning off lights and turning down thermostats.

"These things are so very obvious," he said, calling today's interest over global-warming and what to do about it a "touchy-feely thing" that has current political wings.

"Five hundred years from now, well, I'm not going to be here, but they'll be worried about the cooling effects," he said. "Scientists are not really in agreement that global warming is there."

The assembly would be "overstretching" the global warming issue in declaring a need for and spending money to create an impact plan at this time, he said.

Bill Smith of Homer disagreed with Fischer's assessment.

"With all due respect to Mr. Fischer, this has nothing to do with global warming and everything to do with climate change, which we have observed around us," Smith said, adding that the effects need to be looked at.

He suggested the administration contact the governor's climate change sub-cabinet, which has begun focusing on emergency situations such as coastal erosion and other climate-change issues in the far north.

"The idea here is that the borough can start moving in a direction of seeing how we can respond to climate change and maybe make it work in our favor and maybe mitigate any extra impacts that might occur, and that could be a positive thing," he said.

Assemblywoman Margaret Gilman of Kenai also took issue with Fischer's comments, saying it was more than just a matter of turning off lights and turning down thermostats.

"What I see this resolution doing is changing the mindset of the borough," she said. "That when something is before us, no matter what it is before us, we look at it with the mindset that what we as individuals and what we as a borough entity do has an impact on the environment."

She said the global warming issue was not a passing fad.

Assemblyman Ron Long of Seward who sponsored the measure along with Smith, Gilman, and Milli Martin of Diamond Ridge, moved to amend language in the resolution in an effort to make it a policy guide for further action. Future measures soon to come, he said, would take specific steps to cut back on energy use in borough facilities.

"This is my attempt to put together at least a mental consistency checklist so that when we are putting together our funding priorities, or when we're putting together land-use plans, that we've at least said, 'Is there a vulnerability or an opportunity associated with that?'" Long said. "Whatever action we are contemplating: Is there a good side or a bad side that we can look at and consider, and if so, do we have a back-up plan?"

Assemblyman Pete Sprague of Soldotna joined the four sponsors in approving the resolution. Opposing were Fischer, Assembly President Grace Merkes of Sterling and Assemblyman Gary Superman of Nikiski.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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