Both Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell inherited thorny issues involving Alaska upon taking office this year. So they've both chosen to tackle these controversies head on during what happens to be the nicest time of the year to visit the nation's 49th state.
McCarthy is headed Tuesday to Bristol Bay, the site of a proposed gold and copper mine which will generate significant revenue but could imperil one of the world's largest wild salmon fisheries. EPA is weighing whether to invoke its rarely-used authority under the Clean Water Act to block the Pebble Mine project.
McCarthy spent the start of her Alaska trip emphasizing the problem of global warming, which is happening at an accelerated pace in the Arctic. According to an EPA statement, she visited Portage Glacier, which has been receding in recent years, "to highlight President Obama's Climate Action Plan and the urgency to act now on the issue."
The administrator's climate event took place on the same day EPA released a new series of climate videos aimed at touting both the president's climate plan and steps Americans can take to reduce their carbon footprint.
Jewell, meanwhile, will journey to the remote Alaskan village of King Cove Friday to meet with local residents about their push to construct a road through a wilderness area in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Earlier this year Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) threatened to block Jewell’s nomination unless the Obama administration agreed to build the road through the refuge, a 315,000-acre stretch of eelgrass and tundra where Pacific black brants and other migrating birds feed before beginning their journey south.
Ninety-five percent of the refuge is designated wilderness in which roads are barred. The village's 750 residents say the nearly $48 million they received in 1998 to build a telemedicine center and buy a hovercraft to transport them to an all-weather airport in neighboring Cold Bay has not solved the medical challenges they face during inclement weather.
The Interior Department concluded earlier this year that the proposed road would undermine the refuge's critical habitat.
“We are so grateful that the U.S. Interior Secretary is coming to King Cove to get a real sense from residents of why this road corridor is the most reliable option and why it’s so crucial to this community," said Della Trumble, a spokeswoman for the Agdaagux Tribal Council and the King Cove Corporation who has lobbied for the road for 35 years. "There are so many heart-wrenching stories from residents who experienced difficult medevacs on small planes or boats during dangerous, stormy weather,”
As part of the deal outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar struck with Murkowski to secure Jewell's nomination, Interior's Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn visited King Cove and presided over a tribal consultation and a community meeting in late June. During his trip, Washburn encountered the same sort of difficult weather conditions local residents sometimes experience -- heavy fog and rough seas – forcing him to take a boat back to Cold Bay and climb the 20-foot ladder at the dock many medical evacuees have to ascend during emergencies.