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Obama to offer aid to Alaskans affected by climate change

It will be the first visit by a sitting president to the Arctic Circle.

By
Ed Adamczyk
President Obama waves to the media as he departs the White House for a trip to Alaska, in Washington, D.C. on August 31, 2015. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
President Obama waves to the media as he departs the White House for a trip to Alaska, in Washington, D.C. on August 31, 2015. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama is expected to pledge aid to areas of Alaska hit hard by climate change during his visit Wednesday to the remote town of Kotzebue.

His three-day visit to Alaska is meant to dramatize the effects of global climate change and the actions of his administration to deal with it.

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During the first trip north of the Arctic Circle by a sitting president, Obama is expected to observe first-hand the effects of warming temperatures and their effect on shorelines and community infrastructures. The White House said he will announce federal grants to deal with coastal erosion in areas such as northwestern Alaska, which could include relocation in extreme cases.

The assistance package will include grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency for water. It would also create waste projects in vulnerable areas, and projects to help residents, including Native American tribes, reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

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The Denali Commision, a federal agency charged with coordinating resources in rural Alaska, plans more than $15 million in grants to construct bulk fuel tanks where cold weather and reduced infrastructure are responsible for high heating costs.

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Alaska is also an experimental ground for clean energy projects. A competition organized by the Department of Energy is expected to lead to ideas to bring $6 million of clean energy projects to Native American lands, and the U.S. government is partnering with private enterprise to make Kodiak Island nearly entirely powered by clean energy.

Kotzebue, on an inlet of the Bering Sea, built a sea wall in 2012 to confront storm surges typically suppressed by now-gone sea ice. Nearby communities have observed significant soil erosion caused by the disappearance of permafrost.

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The trip to Kotzebue will end Obama's three-day visit to Alaska, designed to highlight the effects of global climate change in one of the United States' most ecologically vulnerable areas. Tuesday he visited Kenai Fjords National Park in southern Alaska, where a glacier has receded more than a mile in 200 years but has retreated visibly more quickly in recent years.

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