Yesterday, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert advised Democrats to “Take the High Road” with Sarah Palin and focus on “the great issues of this campaign.” It’s good advice for journalists, too.
One route to higher ground would be a deeper exploration of the Republican vice presidential nominee’s environmental record. Palin, the governor of Alaska for the last two years, who before that served for ten years as a member of city council and then mayor of her native Wasilla, has had intimate experience with a number of significant environmental issues, and therein lie some clues to her strengths and weaknesses as a public official and leader.
Energy and pollution are not only integral to Alaskan politics; they are points upon which Palin and Senator John McCain, her would-be boss, clearly disagree. As such, it is no surprise that most newspapers, in their coverage of McCain’s decision to tap Palin, have noted that she doubts that human beings are causing global warming and that she supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (McCain, on the other hand, has long supported the scientific consensus that humans’ are behind the warming and, despite his flip-flop on offshore drilling, still wants to protect the refuge.) Despite her skepticism of anthropogenic causes, however, Palin clearly believes that her state has already suffered the effects of a warmer world, but her response has leaned heavily toward adaptation over mitigation. Last September, she created a special subcabinet to address the local impacts of climate change, which this spring began rolling out a multimillion dollar effort to rescue coastal villages from erosion.
There is much more to say about Palin’s positions on these and other environmental issues, however, and so far, only a few papers have moved beyond perfunctory sentences to devote entire articles and columns to the subject.
Here’s a good place to start: McCain has touted Palin’s willingness to stand-up to the big oil companies. Indeed, Tom Kizzia of the Anchorage Daily News (more on him in a bit), had a story last week calling her the “Joan of Arc of Alaska politics,” in which he outlined how Palin has estranged herself from the local Republican Party and business elite. But she has not stood up to oil and gas companies in the way that McCain suggests, and more journalists should point that out. Her signature acts as governor include a push to raise the profits tax on oil producers and the passage of a bill that bypassed BP, Exxon Mobil, and Conoco Phillips in favor of an independent contractor to build a $40 billion pipeline that will carry gas from the North Slope to the rest of the state. Thus, in a column that basically described Palin as the last nail in McCain’s environmental coffin, the New York Times’s Tom Friedman noted that “Palin’s much ballyhooed confrontations with the oil industry have all been about who should get more of the windfall profits, not how to end our addiction.”
But there is plenty of fodder beyond energy. Not surprisingly, Grist, the online environmental magazine, which has done an excellent job cataloguing candidates’ green credentials throughout the race, has a very good breakdown of Palin’s record. It seems the only traditional news article from mainstream national media to do the same comes from Renee Schoof in McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Her story from last Friday immediately notes that Palin has “tried to persuade” McCain on drilling in ANWR.
The governor’s position echoes that of other Republicans and merits more coverage; commenting on the GOP’s decision to eliminate ANWR from its party platform, Oregon delegate Jeff Grossman told National Public Radio last week that many GOP delegates hoped McCain would “come around” in drilling in the refuge.
Schoof quickly moves beyond ANWR, however, to address three other points of Palin’s record that have not received much attention: her opposition to listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act; her opposition to an anti-pollution measure aimed at the mining industry; and her “failing record” on wildlife.
Schoof does not go into a lot of detail about these things, which is fine given the “first-look” nature of her article, but one hopes she will soon because each deserves a deeper dive by the national media. For evidence of what such scrutiny would turn up, check out the work of the Anchorage Daily News (whom Schoof credits), where Kizzia and fellow reporter Elizabeth Bluemink, in particular, have covered Palin’s environmental governance in detail over the last two years.