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Native Alaskans Grapple With Global Warming

A group of Native Alaskans traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to plead for congressional action on climate change as they grapple with its dramatic impacts.

Residents of the village of Shishmaref, located on a barrier island off Alaska’s northwest coast, described their community’s drastically changing landscape and the effects of the warming climate on their culture to the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change on Tuesday.

The group is also scheduled to meet with Alaska’s congressional delegation and with administration officials including EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and White House climate adviser Dan Utech.

Climate change has affected the length of the local hunting season and the life span of the infrastructure in place to shield residents from severe storms, said Tony Weyiouanna, president of the board for the Shishmaref Native Corporation. Shorter winters are compelling residents to buy more food instead of hunting and fishing, he said, and rising seas mean the town’s Army Corps of Engineers-designed sea wall is now only expected to protect the community for 15 years, rather than the originally expected 25 years.

“All of our community investments now face short life spans and beg the question of, how long are we going to use this before it is no longer useful?” Weyiouanna said.

Task force Co-Chairman Henry A. Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Republican lawmakers who reject the science supporting the link between human activity and climate change need to hear from those directly affected by it. He said the House panel was expected to approve legislation Tuesday to restrict the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.

“Congress needs to hear you describe how a rapidly changing climate is exacting a tremendous toll on our coastal communities,” Waxman said.

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