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Obama Uses Alaska Visit To Focus On Climate Change, Native Issues


Here's a test of just how President Obama can take an issue when majorities in Congress differ with it.


The issue is climate change, and the president's view, no long-term issue is more vital to address.

MONTAGNE: Key Republicans could not disagree more. So the president is working to build public support and working toward a global summit on climate. That's the main reason the president is in Alaska this week.

INSKEEP: It is also in Alaska that the president faces criticism from environmental groups who question his own record on climate issues.

MONTAGNE: That's because he recently approved oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The trip was vintage Obama. The president has often disappointed environmentalists and cheered them at the same time, and his visit to Alaska fit that pattern. Before he left Washington, Mr. Obama allowed Royal Dutch Shell to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean, a move condemned by environmental groups. Even Hillary Clinton, who's been wary of breaking openly with the president, came out firmly against the Shell decision. But while he was in Alaska, Mr. Obama won praise from the environmental community with a speech that focused on the dire effects of climate change. In urgent, almost apocalyptic terms, he described the havoc that climate change, if not addressed, would cause - floods of refugees, abandoned cities, whole countries literally underwater.

BARACK OBAMA: Climate change is no longer some far off problem. It is happening here. It is happening now.

LIASSON: The president said that on this issue, there is such a thing as being too late, and that moment is almost upon us. He said that if this generation did nothing, climate change would trigger more violent conflicts and make it impossible for the next generation to repair the damage. The president said there's always an argument for inaction. We simply don't want our lives disrupted.

OBAMA: The irony, of course, is that few things will disrupt our live as profoundly as climate change.

LIASSON: By allowing Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean and at the same time pushing for a global climate treaty, Mr. Obama was trying to show that the need for more energy and more environmental protection were not in conflict. He said the U.S. was doing all it could to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

OBAMA: I've come here today as the leader of the world's largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it.

LIASSON: While he's in Alaska, President Obama will hike a glacier that's already melting due to global warming, he'll meet with fishermen who depend on a clean environment for their livelihoods, and he'll talk with Alaskan natives who are calling for expanded oil and gas extraction. He'll also tape a reality TV show with the wilderness survivalist, Bear Grylls. And, like everything else President Obama does, this trip to Alaska was marked by partisanship. Before he left the White House, he announced that Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America, was being renamed Denali, its traditional Alaskan-Indian name. That triggered an outcry from Republicans. William McKinley, a Republican, was the 25th president of the United States. The mountain was named after him almost a hundred years ago. President McKinley never visited Alaska. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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