Obama Transforms Nearly Useless Agency into Alleged Defender against Climate Change

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Created in 1998, the Denali Commission was a pet project of longtime Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R), who founded the agency as a way to funnel money for infrastructure projects to rural areas in his state. But with his departure from Congress and a subsequent ban on earmarks, the Denali Commission was so moribund that its inspector general recommended in 2013 that all its funding be discontinued.


The agency hung on—barely—and has now been rescued by President Barack Obama, who last week on his trip to the 49th state gave it the new mission of trying to help Alaskan communities mitigate the effects of climate change. “The Denali Commission will serve as a one-stop-shop for matters relating to coastal resilience in Alaska as appropriate,” the White House said in a statement. “The commission will collaborate with the state of Alaska, local and tribal agencies to facilitate coordination of federal engagement in efforts to protect communities, and conduct voluntary relocation or other managed retreat efforts.”


The reference to “managed retreat” has to do with 31 communities that are threatened by the warming climate. Over the next three years, the commission will decide if the residents of these communities will be “protected in place” or moved away from deteriorating coastal areas. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) will evidently oversee the project.


The commission will also provide grants for power plants in the state.


The commission started working on climate change issues when it found it had about $2.5 million left from last year’s budget, according to Lisa Rein of The Washington Post. Commissioners met with state officials to see how the money could be spent. Shortly thereafter, the White House proposed spending money on short- and long-term programs to protect and repair coastal villages at risk from climate change. Officials decided that the Denali Commission, which was already in place, was the best way to do that. The agency will be a “conduit between rural Alaska and the policymakers in D.C.,” its federal co-chair, Joel Neimeyer, told the Post.


Many environmentalists viewed Obama’s initiative as cynical considering that barely two weeks earlier he had given the final go-ahead for Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of northwest Alaska.

-Steve Straehley, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Obama Gives New Role to Federal Agency Once Deemed Useless by Its Own IG (by Eric Katz, Government Executive)

This Tiny Agency’s Own Watchdog Said it Should Be Deep-Sixed. Now, It’s Helping to Save Alaska From Climate Change. (by Lisa Rein, Washington Post)

Improvements Needed in the Office of Inspector General's Oversight of the Denali Commission (United States Government Accountability Office) (pdf)

Denali Commission (AllGov)


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