Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson today writes about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s policy flip-flop on global warming and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He notes her current recommendation — expressed in her own Post op-ed last week — that President Obama boycott Copenhagen, citing the Climategate scandal as reason enough to skip the climate conference. But while she was governor she held a slightly different view, as Robinson explained:
Back then, Palin was the governor of a state where “coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice, record forest fires, and other changes are affecting, and will continue to affect, the lifestyles and livelihoods of Alaskans,” as she wrote (in a 2007 administrative order creating the state’s Climate Change Sub-Cabinet). Faced with that reality, she sensibly formed the high-level working group to chart a course of action.
“Climate change is not just an environmental issue,” wrote Palin. “It is also a social, cultural, and economic issue important to all Alaskans….”
In her administrative order, Palin instructed the sub-Cabinet group to develop recommendations on “the opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Alaska sources, including the expanded use of alternative fuels, energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, land use management, and transportation planning.” She also instructed the group to look into “carbon-trading markets.”
Robinson is right about Palin’s seeming switch, but he leaves out context and cuts no slack on how the Climategate scandal has been a game-changer. For context, the idea of setting up a blue-ribbon panel to study climate issues likely came from Tom Chapple, a greenie envirocrat in her administration who left not long after she created the Subcabinet. The responsibility for managing the project fell to his successor, Larry Hartig, who has had to juggle the interests of environmentalists and the oil industry up there.
As director of Climate Strategies Watch I studied how the Subcabinet was put together, and specifically how and why they hired the global warming alarmist Center for Climate Strategies as technical advisers and consultants to run all the Subcabinet’s activities. I had written a long narrative — linking public documents and emails — explaining the developments and the less-than-transparent process, for the CSWatch Web site last year. However, that project has been folded into the activities of the Heartland Institute — my current employer — as CSWatch (we believe the site was victimized by a hacker) was only planned to last a year (it lasted about 18 months).
For those who want to plow through the story, I am reproducing the original CSWatch narrative below with links (some of which may not work) to documents embedded. You’ll see at the end that I tend to believe that then-Gov. Palin was doing the politically correct thing at the time by signing the administrative order, but left the major decisions to Chapple, Hartig, and the Subcabinet itself. I think the views she’s expressed now only serve to confirm that theory, but I could be wrong.
The story, posted late August/early September last year:
I hate to be the Baby Ruth in the punchbowl at the celebration over John McCain’s choice for a running mate, but since it’s my job to follow these things, I’ve got to highlight one area where Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has aligned with the GOP candidate on an issue that makes many conservatives cringe: global warming.
Gov. Palin signed an administrative order last September that created the Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet. Her order is perhaps not as strident on greenhouse gas emissions as some other governors, but she still buys into the argument that GHGs must be reduced.
Unfortunately her Department of Environmental Conservation hired the Center for Climate Strategies as their climate commission management team. I requested documents pertaining to the CCS hire from DEC and was sent some records, but others were identified as “deliberative” and therefore withheld from me, which officials said was allowed under state law. I still have my doubts, because other records sent to me appeared to fall into that category but were sent anyway. Regardless, the withholding of several documents with regard to an issue that does not fall under “highly-sensitive” or “security-related” undermines the governor’s reputation for greater government transparency.
As for CCS, it all began last August when DEC’s Tom Chapple (now working in the private sector) reached out to CCS’s executive director (PDF) Tom Peterson, “to discuss the opportunities and the possibility of CCS interest in helping Alaska.” In fact, it appears that Chapple was the driving force behind the state’s hiring of the Pennsylvania-based advocacy group, to manage Alaska’s development of their greenhouse gas emissions policy.
Chapple learned some about CCS from the Washington Dept. of Ecology’s Janice Adair — as his handwritten notes show (PDF) – which include a discussion about how to work out a sole source contract for CCS, and that “some states have paid some, some have paid nothing” (Washington state paid CCS $200,000). Other notes (PDF) from a conference call, presumably that included Ken Colburn of CCS, show that the typical CCS cookie-cutter process was explained, and that as elsewhere CCS would handle everything, once hired: Meetings, scheduling, technical information, Web site, preparation of pre-meeting documents, meeting minutes, etc. Oh, and we can’t forget CCS’s own grant-funding service.
In the meantime Gov. Palin signed her administrative order on Sept. 14, 2007.
A month later negotiations between Chapple of DEC and CCS representatives intensified, as they began to discuss what the typical CCS “process memo” would contain. A draft (PDF) of the agreement said, “Although additional research may be needed to help the public and policymakers better understand Alaska’s changing climate and how to anticipate and respond to its effects, the time for climate debate is over; it is now time for climate action.” Also, the document states on page 13 clearly what is off-limits: “Participants will not debate the science of climate change….” Private funders are identified as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Marisla Foundation, the Energy Foundation, and others. The opening negotiating cost (PDF, see second page) for the process was set at $480,000.
As if total control over the process wasn’t enough for CCS either, though, there’s this: CCS recommended who would be appointed (PDF) to the climate commission. Read the list and note how strongly the representation is that they want from environmentalism and government. Meanwhile private business gets short shrift, as do climate scientists, taxpayer activists, property rights activists, and other protectors of individual rights.
On November 6, 2007 the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet held its third meeting, in which CCS was allowed to make the case (PDF) for being hired as its management consultant. Ken Colburn, in his PowerPoint presentation (PDF), promoted CCS’s nonsensical economic analysis from Arizona (285,000 new jobs and $5.5 billion in net savings to the state!) and New Mexico ($2.1 billion in savings to the state). As I’ve reported in the past, those claims by CCS have been thoroughly debunked.
But unsurprisingly the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner swallowed the Colburn claims (PDF), unchallenged. The newspaper reported that Larry Hartig, Palin’s commissioner of environmental conservation, expressed interest in CCS: “If it’s not them, we should do something similar to that.” Also, Colburn explained that CCS’s services typically cost about $500,000, “but states generally pay only about 10 percent of the cost,” the News-Miner reported. “CCS covers the rest with funding from various foundations” – that is, Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Later in November DEC’s Chapple sent out a plea (PDF) – and forwarded to Colburn — to various state departments asking for help “in shaping up the scope of work for the proposed contract with (CCS).” The message was met with enthusiasm from Colburn: “This is a remarkable email, carrying precisely the right content and precisely the right tone.” Translation: “I won’t stop kissing your rump until you hire us.” More negotiations and contract details were addressed (PDF) in a conference call Nov. 29.
In early December 2007 DEC’s Hartig, with Chapple and Colburn in the loop, considered engaging the National Commission on Energy Policy (PDF) to help on climate adaptation strategies. NCEP is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which is also paying the total cost for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s climate and energy policy advisers.
As the February meeting approached in which CCS would be formally approved as manager by the Sub-Cabinet, questions were raised (PDF) about why the cost for Alaska’s portion of CCS’s services rose from $49,000 to $180,000. No other documents were provided to me that addressed this situation and its resolution, but the final contract (PDF) shows that the state is indeed contributing the $180,000. However, the full budget (see pages 36-37 of the contract) for the process is double what any of these have cost in other states: $972,196. This could be attributed to the distance of the state from the lower 48, but it’s hard to believe that could account for that great an increase in the average CCS budget.
As for the holes in my story, Alaska DEC’s Gary Mendivil sent a letter with the documents that were provided, but also explained that some records were withheld (PDF) from me. My original request was received by DEC on Dec. 27, 2007, and according to an email from Mendivil on Feb. 1, 2008, he “was told that the stack of records that was sent to the (State of Alaska) attorney for review was four inches thick….” The CD containing records was mailed to me on Feb. 20 (according to DEC’s response letter), and the documents therein did not even measure a half-inch, much less anything close to four inches. Even with the documents they listed as withheld (PDF), it would be hard to believe they could measure four inches.
When asked why any records needed to be withheld in the first place, Mendivil provided a minimal explanation: “We’ve claimed a privilege under AS 40.25.120(a)(4) (“records required to be kept confidential by a federal law or regulation or by state law”).” Not satisfied, I asked which federal or state laws DEC was citing to justify keeping a lid on certain records. His answer:
“The Alaska Supreme Court has adopted the common law recognition of a deliberative process privilege. Because Alaska’s statutory definition of “state law” encompasses common law as well as positive law, the Alaska Supreme Court has held that the deliberative process privilege is one of the judicially recognized state law exceptions to public access under the public records act. This is the privilege that the State has claimed on certain documents identified on the privilege log that was most recently given to you. In other words, the documents withheld as “deliberative process” show the mental processes of government decision makers, and are thereby protected from disclosure.”
If you review the list of withheld records, and compare it to the documents DEC did provide, you might wonder what criteria they used to determine “deliberative” vs. non-deliberative. It seems clear that many of the records they did supply could have also fallen under “deliberative” status as well.
I would say it’s pretty odd that the State of Alaska could withhold documents from the public about a commission that will go a long way towards influencing its policies on energy, environment, property rights, taxes, the state budget, land use, education, and just about every other public policy area. The DEC has not given a clear explanation why, nor clearly cited a law that allows them to make a “deliberation” exception. And even if they could, what possible reason would they have to do so when there are no national or state security issues at stake, or any other sensitive issues?
DEC’s decision, as has been the case in other states where CCS is working, undermines the claim in their contracts and process memos that their “process is fully transparent.” There is no clear indication that Gov. Palin is behind these DEC decisions – on the face it looks like all she has done is sign the administrative order creating the Sub-Cabinet, then depended on her environmental agency leaders (Chapple and Hartig) to make the rest of the decisions. But the way this has played out sure does foul up her reputation as a reformer in pursuit of greater government transparency.