Arctic sea ice to hit record low

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said earlier this month that July was the fourth-hottest month on record worldwide. It reported that Arctic sea ice extent was 3.1 million square miles, the second-lowest for the month on record.

Environmentalists have expressed frustration with the scant attention President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney have given to climate change. They say the drought that has ravaged the Heartland and heat that has withered Arctic ice should prompt widespread discussion about climate change on the campaign trail.

An Obama aide on Thursday hinted climate change would not surface as a main campaign topic, saying the president's positions on the matter are well-known.

Congressional Democrats, however, have been willing to wage a fight on climate change, as they have pegged global warming as the cause for drastic Arctic ice loss. Legislators from coastal states have expressed particular concerns about rising sea levels damaging infrastructure and cropland, among other things.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) last month said global warming was to blame for a chunk of ice twice the size of Manhattan breaking free from a Greenland glacier. Democratic senators repeated that assertion in an August hearing on climate change.

Some Republicans have seen opportunity in the evaporating ice cover.

They say the ice loss might improve conditions for offshore drilling. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has said federal regulators should consider revising a timetable for Arctic offshore fossil fuel drilling if ice cover is projected to return later than usual.

Expanding offshore drilling, especially in the Arctic, is a staple in GOP energy platforms, ranging from Congress to GOP governors to Romney. Republicans say increasing fossil fuel exploration in federally controlled offshore and onshore lands would provide an economic boost by increasing access to cheap energy.

A Congressional Budget Office report released earlier this month partially refuted that argument. It said opening up currently off-limits lands would bring in limited new revenue, and that the Gulf of Mexico would still carry the load for offshore production.