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November 19, 2008

Wherein Uncle Ted is Shown the Door

Once again we learn that crime doesn't pay. Or rather it does pay. Quite a lot, really. And then you get caught, get convicted, lose your Senate seat on your 85th birthday and prepare to exchange your bespoke suits for striped pajamas. If, that is, you're Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. All of which has resulted in the election of Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, the first Democratic Senator from Alaska since Reconstruction. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but it's been a good long while.

Thus given the tenuous hold any Democrat has on any job in Alaska, Matt Yglesias is right to wonder how reliable a vote newly minted Senator Mark Begich will be for a progressive agenda. And if we throw in the fact that in terms of petrodollars Alaska all but qualifies for membership in OPEC, I thought it worth poking around to see how much environmentalists should fear or cheer Sen. Begich. The results are actually encouraging.

For one thing, he does honestly believe in global warming. In an "op-ed" published on HuffPo, he recounts how three years ago on a trip with his children, the climate-change-denying scales fell from his eyes like water flowing off the melting Alaskan glaciers. He goes on to observe that "Alaska is ground zero for global warming" and he explicitly supports conservation and renewable energy as cornerstones of his climate policy.

While his op-ed (along with his climate change policy page) avoids any mention of phrases like "carbon emissions," "cap-and-trade," or "reducing dependence on hydrocarbons" he does throw in a strong statement at the bottom of his energy policy page:
If we don't act immediately to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions the cost of doing nothing will far outweigh the cost of taking action. Mark Begich will support national legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 through a cap and trade system
That's less of a reduction than Obama is ultimately aiming for and Begich further wants Alaskans to be compensated for their support in the form of something called the "Alaska Adaptation Fund" financed by revenues from emissions auctions. But I'm quibbling.

So I think we can safely say that at a minimum Begich would vote for cloture on climate change legislation. Will he actually vote for the legislation itself? That, as Roland Hedley Jr. likes to say, remains to be seen.

On the minus side, along with conservation and renewables, Begich does casually throw in "new development" - known in energy policy circles by the more technical term "drill, baby, drill" - as a central component of his climate and energy policy. And while he wants to cut Alaskan energy use, establish renewable energy targets and develop "cleaner" natural gas reserves, he also wants to open up ANWR to oil development. Before anyone gets too upset about that, I'll point out that the votes aren't there in the Senate for ANWR and never have been, so we'll give the junior Senator his freebie.

And foodies take note: Begich also gives prominence in his policy pages to support for Sustainable Fisheries. I hate tipping my hand (the competition is watching, after all) and a fishy post will be upcoming. Suffice it to say that Begich's support for dwindling fisheries is really really good.

Net net net, I'm surprisingly satisfied with Alaska's latest political product. Lord knows they couldn't do worse than the last one.

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