Analysis | In tight Alaska House race, Mary Peltola runs 'pro-fish' campaign (2022)

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In tight reelection race, Rep. Mary Peltola runs ‘pro-fish’ campaign and backs controversial oil project

In her closely watched quest to win reelection in a red state, Alaska Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola has sought to emphasize a unique issue: fish.

Peltola, the first Alaska Native elected to Congress, has adopted the campaign slogan “pro-fish, pro-family and pro-freedom.” The first part of the catchphrase is meant to recognize that fishing has sustained Alaska Natives for generations — but now climate change imperils that way of life.

At the same time, Peltola has joined Alaska Republicans in supporting a controversial oil project on the state’s North Slope. If developed, ConocoPhillips’s Willow project would release massive quantities of carbon dioxide that would hasten a climate catastrophe, environmentalists say.

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(Video) Alaska's Rep. Peltola Mary: ‘I Don’t Pretend To Be A National Politician’

These pro-fish and pro-oil-project stances, which don’t fall neatly along party lines, illustrate how Peltola has sought to balance concerns about the impacts of the climate crisis with the economic benefits of fossil fuel production in the oil-rich state.

The approach could help Peltola return to Washington next year after scoring a stunning upset last month, winning a special election for Alaska’s lone House seat by defeating former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) and business executive Nick Begich (R).

The strategy has even earned Peltola an endorsement from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has also earned a reputation for crossing the aisle on energy and environmental issues, as our colleague Leigh Ann Caldwell reported from Anchorage.

“Mary is a woman whose heart is as grounded in Alaska as anybody you’re going to find,” Murkowski told reporters at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage on Friday, wearing a paisley-patterned kuspuk — common Alaska Indigenous clothing that Peltola gave her last year.

A focus on fish

Last November, while serving as director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Peltola was invited to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee about U.S. fisheries laws.

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Then-Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who died in March and frequently clashed with environmentalists over nearly five decades in office, agreed with Democrats that Peltola would be the perfect witness, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told The Climate 202.

“To me, that says something that both Don Young and myself respected her enough on fisheries issues,” Huffman said in an interview Monday.

Less than a year after testifying on Capitol Hill, Peltola won the special election to fill out the remainder of Young’s term. She then gained a seat on the Natural Resources panel, where she wasted no time in working on fisheries policy.

The week she was sworn in, Peltola threw her support behind legislation from Huffman that would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the law that governs fishing in federal waters, and would require consideration of climate change by regional fishery-management councils. The Natural Resources Committee advanced the measure last month by a vote of 21-18.

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The issue is close to home for Peltola: Climate change and biodiversity loss have caused salmon populations to plummet in the Yukon River, where the fish have long nourished and sustained Indigenous communities.

(Video) Midterms 2022 Two Weeks Away

Meanwhile, Alaska this month canceled the winter snow crab season in the Bering Sea for the first time because of a sharp decline in their estimated population, dealing a severe blow to fishers who make a living off the crabs.

The Willow project

Even as she advocates for sustainable fisheries policy, Peltola joined Alaska’s Republican senators in sending a Sept. 20 letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging the Interior Department to approve the Willow oil project, which critics say would have a massive carbon footprint.

  • Willow would release up to 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years — equivalent to the annual emissions of 76 coal plants, according to a recent analysis by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
  • However, ConocoPhillips has disputed the accuracy of CAP's analysis, saying Willow would have a modest environmental impact and would provide desperately needed energy and jobs for the region.

Begich, the Republican businessman who is running against Peltola in next month’s midterm elections, said in a brief phone interview Monday that he also supports Willow because it would “provide an important source of domestic traditional energy.”

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Begich added that while he believes climate change is harming fish stocks, he opposes some of the provisions in the reauthorization of the fisheries law, including the addition of two tribal seats to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Palin’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. But during a recent debate, Palin called for Alaska to develop its “God-given resources,” including fossil fuels and renewable energy, and said she opposes the reauthorization ”because I don’t know enough about it.”

Andy Moderow, state director of Alaska Wilderness League Action, the lobbying and political arm of the Alaska Wilderness League, said he understands that Alaska politicians in both parties have typically supported oil development as a way to lower gasoline prices and fill state coffers.

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But if Peltola is reelected, Moderow said, he intends to stress that the project would have major climate consequences while providing little relief at the pump.

“Willow is a climate step backwards, and it's not going to do anything to address high gas prices in Alaska,” he said. “So we want to work with her to come up with solutions that do help.”

Pressure points

League of Conservation Voters is among megadonors pumping millions into midterms

(Video) Tuesday 8/2/22 - The Deep Dive (Weekly Top 3) and a Lifecoaching lesson

The 50 biggest donors this election cycle have pumped a total of $1.1 billion into political action committees and other groups, according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission data, our colleagues Luis Melgar, Chris Alcantara, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Anu Narayanswamy and Chris Zubak-Skees report.

Among the largest donors is the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group, which gave $15.4 million overall to support pro-climate candidates, whether through voter mobilization or direct support for campaigns.

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LCV donated the eighth-largest amount out of all organizational funders, giving its political action committee LCV Victory Fund $15.2 million, Conservation Ohio $140,000 and GiveGreen United Action $88,000.

America Votes, a liberal nonprofit, also donated $2.5 million to LCV Victory Fund, while the Environmental Defense Action Fund gave $8 million to both Democratic and Republican candidates.

In one flood-prone S.C. community, a wrenching question: Stay or go?

In Socastee, S.C., rapidly rising seas exacerbated by wetter storms have caused repeated flooding, leaving some residents no choice other than to accept government buyouts of their homes, The Post’s Brady Dennis reports.

Waters near this part of the state are rising faster than almost any other place in the world, with a U.S. government station in Myrtle Beach recording nearly 10 inches of sea-level rise since the late 1950s. Some residents of Socastee saw their homes flooded during hurricanes Joaquin in 2015, Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018.

The transformation unfolding in this corner of South Carolina embodies the quandary that a growing number of communities around the country face — and will continue to face in the years ahead.

Managed retreat — the voluntary movement away from an area vulnerable to the impacts of climate change — can prompt difficult conversations about what it means to leave a place of personal significance. Terri Straka, who has lived in Socastee for three decades, said she understands why many of her neighbors decided against a government buyout.

“It’s like a death,” she said, standing in front of two U-Haul trucks packed with all of her belongings. “I didn’t have any intentions of leaving. This place is my heritage.”

International climate

E.U. countries agree to raise climate target next year

European Union countries on Monday agreed to increase their target to cut emissions under the Paris agreement next year, establishing their joint negotiating position ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Egypt next month, Kate Abnett and Bart H. Meijer report for Reuters.

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The 27-nation bloc, which is the world’s third-largest emitter, currently aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. But on Monday, climate ministers from each member country promised to adopt a stronger target “as soon as possible,” and they said this could not be done until the E.U. finishes negotiating a dozen new climate laws.

Diplomats from nearly 200 countries pledged at last year’s COP26 climate talks in Scotland to strengthen their climate pledges before the COP27 gathering in Egypt. But most have not yet submitted new targets.

Meanwhile, E.U. countries’ energy ministers are set to meet Tuesday to discuss a cap on the price of gas amid the energy crunch caused by the war in Ukraine.

According to a document seen by Reuters, the European Commission is warning that the price cap would cause E.U. gas demand to increase by up to 9 billion cubic meters at a time when countries are racing to conserve fuel and replace Russian deliveries.

In the atmosphere

  • Here’s exactly how your diet affects the planet, a landmark study findsScott Dance for The Post
  • In place of Sandy-ravaged homes, a ‘living’ beach helps N.J. prepare for next storm Colleen Hagerty for The Post
  • North Atlantic right whale population drops to about 340, worrying scientists Kelly Kasulis Cho for The Post
  • African nations to finalize aims ahead of U.N. climate summit Wanjohi Kabukuru for the Associated Press
  • Yellen tempers expectations for major EV tax-credit tweaksAri Natter and Christopher Condon for Bloomberg News

Viral

Happy Bat Week to all who celebrate.

New swim move -- bat stroke.

✨ Believe it or not... bats can swim! Researchers at Brown University used high-resolution, high-speed video cameras to view the details of swimming motion patterns in bats for comparisons to their wing movement during flight. #BatWeek pic.twitter.com/gQJm4ptHNS

— U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (@USFWS) October 24, 2022

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