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Alaska Public Radio Network: Congressional Leaders Reflect on China, Alaska Trip

Congressional leaders are reflecting on their recent trip to China and a stopover in Anchorage, where they heard about climate change from Alaska's native leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California led the group of four Democrats and one Republican, all members of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. APRN's Libby Casey reports.

Casey: Speaker Pelosi says the May 22nd stop in Anchorage was a chance to hear first hand from Alaskans about the effects of global warming. She talked about the trip at a press conference in the Capitol Tuesday afternoon.

Speaker Pelosi: We saw that if the polar ice cap is melting, the thermal control of the planet is affected. We saw leaders of villages whose villages were eroding and some melting into the sea. We heard about the damage to the flora and the fauna in Alaska, and of course, the serious impact of the melting of permafrost and what that means in terms of methane gas. Just all to say that it is urgent that we address the issue of the global climate crisis.

Casey: Pelosi says they carried the message of what's happening in Alaska to China and discussed it with the Chinese.

Speaker Pelosi: China doesn't border the Arctic, but the glaciers are melting in the Himalayas, the Gobi desert is expanding, they have sand storms in Beijing from the Gobi desert. The sea level is rising affecting the maritime areas of China, so they have every reason to be as motivated as anyone, and as we are.

Casey: Pelosi says that stop in Alaska energized the delegation to talk about climate change. She and Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who heads the House Committee on Global Warming, both commented that seeing a part of the United States where climate change is altering the landscape had a dramatic impact on them. Some of the group travelled to Greenland a couple years ago to see to see melting ice shells, but Markey says it's different hearing what's happening in his own country.

Congressman Ed Markey: We were now visiting the United States of America, and this is a problem which is already manifesting itself in very dramatic ways in one of the states of the union. And it only further reinforces the need for us to act, and act in a way that reflects the need for the world to have a treaty which begins to reduce these greenhouse gases.

Casey: Markey says the trip left him with a sense of urgency. He's pushing climate change legislation in Congress right now focused on capping greenhouse gas emissions and setting up a carbon credit trading system. The lone Republican of the delegation, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, is his party's top member on the committee and does not support Markey's cap-and-trade legislation.

In anchorage the group met with scientists from the University of Alaska and leaders representing Inupiat, Aleut, Yup'ik, Tlingit, and Athabasken communities. Stanley Tom traveled from the western Yup'ik village of Newtok. It's in the process of moving the entire village because the current location is below sea level and sinking, trapped by the widening Ninglick River. Tom showed the Congressional Delegation a PowerPoint presentation and photos of his village.

Tom Stanley: I talked about the climate change that's happening up in Alaska. We're one of the fastest eroding villages. I talked about the flooding, erosion, and sinking of the village, and it was a really good small meeting and they were really impressed by how we are badly being impacted.

Casey: Stanley Tom says it was the most influential group he's ever been able to talk to about what's happening in Newtok.

Tom Stanley: It was number one. You know I really was happy that they came by, and those are very popular people down in lower 48 and I see them in the news all the time and I'm glad they stopped by in Anchorage to let them hear our problems here in Alaska.

Casey: Climate change is front and center in Washington right now because of the bill Markey is pushing, which is supported by the White House. There's also an international effort to get work done before United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark in December. That's what inspired the Congressional trip to China. While the delegation was there they met with China's three top leaders, including the President and Premier. In addition to talking about climate change, they also addressed North Korea's nuclear testing and missile launch, human rights, and intellectual property rights. In Washington, I'm Libby Casey.