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Old 10-21-2008, 10:55 AM  
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Sarah Palin: Pointing a loaded gun at the environment?

The Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, has often trumpeted her expertise on energy development issues and her love for the environment.

But since her appearance on the world stage, a good deal has come to light on her environmental record - most of which is not good.

Sarah Palin: as governor of Alaska she could do something about mining pollution
As governor of Alaska Sarah Palin could do something about mining pollution

As governor of Alaska, she presides over a breathtakingly beautiful wilderness - but it also happens to be a repository of toxic chemicals, including arsenic, mercury, lead and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (BCBs).

Clearly, this is not her fault.

She doesn't run the mining, energy development, oil, and other industries that cause the pollution.

But as governor it is within her power to do something about it. Only she hasn't. All too often she has either done very little, or made matters worse.

Palin's administration, for example, opposed legislation, put forward earlier this year, that would have banned the flame retardant Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), which affects brain development in young children, including memory and learning functions.

The toxic compound also causes thyroid problems, slow sexual maturation and significantly reduced sperm counts in adults.

Democratic state representative, Andrea Doll, from Juneau (Alaska's capital), tried to get Palin interested in her bill early on. "I told her about the bill," she says. "But she was totally not interested in any way, shape or form. It was that look on her face - that 'don't even go there' look."

Pollutants affect all of us. But in Alaska they are taking their toll. The birth defect rate in the state is twice the US national average; and on North Slope, the area that produces most of Alaska's oil, it's nearly four times the national average.

Unsurprisingly, Sarah Palin is not popular with environmental groups. Greenpeace put it starkly: "Palin has the most anti-environment records of any governor in the US. She has supported oil and drilling in some of the most ecologically sensitive areas in Alaska, even when it meant sacrificing polar bears..."

Biologists from the US Geological Survey have warned that if current climate trends continue, every polar bear in Alaska will be gone by 2050. But Gov Palin has no truck with this.

When the Bush administration announced its decision, in May this year, to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Palin filed a lawsuit to reverse the decision, insisting it was a "wrong move" to protect polar bears.

Writing in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, she said: ". . . Polar bears are magnificent animals, not cartoon characters. They are worthy of our utmost efforts to protect them and their Arctic habitat. But adding polar bears to the nation's list of endangered species. . .should not be part of those efforts."

Palin and Alaska state government officials were basically arguing that it is "certainly premature if not impossible" to link temperature rise in Alaska with CO2 emissions - and thus the polar bears habitat was not necessarily threatened, and that they would not die out.

The Alaska governor and her team were drawing on the work of at least six scientists known to be sceptical about the dangers and causes of global warming.

One study, however, was partly funded by the US oil company ExxonMobil, which unsurprisingly led to questions about the credibility of the Palin position on polar bears.

Gov Palin also opposed the Clean Water Initiative, known as Proposition 4, which was put to the vote in August. This would have reduced the run-off of toxic metals from all mining in Alaska. Less than a week before the vote, she went on TV to state her personal objection to the measure.

She said: "Let me take my governor's hat off for just a minute and tell you personally - Prop 4, I vote no on that." Proposal 4 had been expected to pass. But Alaska's mining industry used the Palin sound bite in a big advertising push, causing the bill to be defeated.

Critics said that Gov Palin's statements were highly unethical, and a legal complaint was filed against the state for improperly taking sides on the measure, which is illegal. The Alaska Public Offices Commission eventually cleared Palin, saying she made it clear it was a personal opinion

Like many in Alaska, Gov Palin is a keen hunter. Rifle in hand, she's bagged everything from moose and caribou to elk and grizzly bear. Environmentalists, however, believe she has abused her position to benefit the hunting community.

In March, under Palin, the Alaskan Board of Game authorised the shooting of wolves from helicopters - something which hadn't been done for twenty years.

This led to the killing of 14 wolf pups in a remote peninsula, some 800 miles south west of Anchorage. First their mothers were killed from the air, then the orphaned pups were discovered in their dens and were dragged out and shot.

Environmentalist claim the killings were illegal and were done as part of an initiative to boost caribou populations for the benefit of hunters.

State officials, however, insist the shootings were humanitarian, saying the pups would have suffered and died without the care of their parents.

The assault on wolves didn't end there. Last year, Palin put up a $150 bounty on wolf paws to encourage hunters to kill more of the creatures. She also spent $400,000 of public money to defeat a proposed ban on the aerial hunting of wolves for sport.

Predictably, Palin is skeptical that man is to blame for climate change, although she does accept that dealing with it has to be part of any future government's political agenda.

"Whether it's entirely, wholly caused by man's activities or is part of the cyclical nature of our planet, the warming and cooling trends - regardless of that, John McCain and I agree that we've got to do something about it," she told ABC News in early September during her first mainstream interview after being chosen as vice presidential nominee.

Previously, though, in an interview with NewsMax.com, she said: "I'm not one though who would attribute [climate change] to being man made."

Many consider this to be her true stance on the environment and say she watered it down after becoming nominated to be in accord with McCain's stance, which accepts that man had something to do with the current state of the climate.

Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War On Science, is aghast at the sheer irony of a climate change denier being based in Alaska. "[Alaska] is warming faster than practically anywhere else, with winter temperatures up by 6F since 1950," he says.

"Visitors to Alaska can see the evidence all around, from drunken forests of semi-fallen trees and sunken roads, all unseated by the melting of the permafrost, to unprecedented forest fires."

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