Pact still on the table: Kenai council to reconsider climate change agreement

Posted: Friday, December 18, 2009

The Kenai City Council delayed commitment Wednesday night to the Alaska Coastal Communities Global Climate Change Compact.

The compact is meant to unite municipal governments in the battle against human-induced global climate change and ocean acidification and calls for immediate action to alleviate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

Some council members, including Mayor Pat Porter, said they worry the word "immediate" could be seen as endorsing current cap and trade legislation being discussed in Washington. Others said the compact doesn't go that far.

The council had enough support Wednesday night to pass an amended resolution that would have allowed the city to sign the compact, but the members ultimately decided to reconsider the compact at the Jan. 6 meeting.

The reconsideration also includes supporting the Tri-Borough Commission, which is looking into creating an energy policy for Alaska that includes the development of non-renewable resources like gas, oil and coal.

Seven municipal governments, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, Seward and Homer, have already signed the coastal climate change agreement. The borough assembly's resolution to sign passed in the body's consent agenda in September.

Kenai council member Joe Moore said he fails to see the urgency of signing the climate change compact.

"Why is it an important fact that other communities have signed this?" Moore asked. "We are the city of Kenai. Let's think for ourselves. By signing this document, it puts words in the city of Kenai's mouth."

Several members of the public who spoke in opposition to the compact said they do not want the agreement to be used against them.

"If you sign this document, you own the language as if you had written it," Rick Ross, a former Kenai City Council member, said. "If you don't support cap and trade or if you think it isn't developed enough for it to come to a conclusion, then I think you have to vote no. The language in the compact speaks for itself."

But others said they aren't worried about the language in the compact.

"I think there's a lot more being read into this than what's really there," council member Ryan Marquis said. "A lot of people get hung up on cap and trade, and they stop and they don't read the rest of the sentence."

Marquis was referring to the sentence in the compact that reads "We hereby express support utiliz(ing) a significant portion of the proceeds from the national cap-and-trade legislation, carbon tax, or other sources to fund initiatives in Alaska that will "

Alan Parks, an Alaska Marine Conservation Council leader who helped draft the compact, said the compact does not support any specific legislation.

"What it does support is climate change legislation that adheres to IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) guidelines," Parks said, clarifying the inclusion of immediate. "Their recommendation is that we have a certain timeline to meet. That's what that means."

Parks said the signatories have recently had a telephone conversation with Alaska's U.S. Sen. Mark Begich expressing their concerns about the House's Waxman-Markey bill.

Council member Bob Molloy, who introduced the resolution to sign the compact, said the agreement would ensure that Kenai will be included in future discussions with leaders.

"We don't want to over-regulate, but we can't do nothing -- that was the message that was being discussed," Molloy said. "It's important for the city of Kenai to be at the table to help influence legislation in a positive way for our city and state."

Some worry that the climate change compact will be a slap in the face to the oil and gas industries, which are critical to Kenai's economy. Vice President of Tesoro's Kenai refinery Steve Hansen attended the meeting to speak against the resolution.

"We know legislation is coming, but this rush is producing legislation that is detrimental to our business," Hansen said. "The peninsula is losing jobs left and right in our sector. A climate compact like this does not help when it's put through rushed legislation that cuts jobs."

Council member Mike Boyle said there is a reason to take immediate action against climate change, and he does not see the compact negatively affecting businesses like Tesoro.

"A scientist friend of mine once said if you don't believe that this is a problem, you better damn well hope you're right. It's not you that's going to suffer, it's your future generations," Boyle said. "Why now? Why not now? Not to decide is to decide."

The council's student representative Maya Johnson was in support of signing the compact.

"It is a time-sensitive issue and we need to recognize the need to act now," Johnson said. "As a teenager, I want to be part of this issue, and I don't want it to be shrugged off to my generation as something to be dealt with later. It's our job to step up and be addressing global climate change."

Signatories of the climate change compact agree to:

"Network with other Alaskan coastal communities; encourage action within our own communities; make wise and effective use of resources provided by the state and federal governments for such actions; and support community efforts to educate the public on these issues."

The compact also says that signing demonstrates a belief in notions that:

* Global climate change represents one of the greatest threats of our time.

* Ocean acidification is caused by increased carbon dioxide concentrations from the burning of fossil fuels and is accelerating.

* Alaska can play a role in addressing climate change.

* There are compelling economic arguments to act now.

* The United States has an obligation to take a leadership role in addressing global climate change.

* Immediate action must be taken at all levels of government and throughout society to address global climate change and ocean acidification.

Reporter Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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