Obama renames Mt. McKinley: Political posturing or rightful restoration?

President Obama's decision to officially rename Alaska's highest peak Denali has drawn criticism from some unlikely places.

Andy Newman/Holland America Line/AP/File
A woman gazes at Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, Aug. 3. On Sunday, the White House said that President Obama will change the name of North America's highest peak to Denali restoring an Alaska Native name with deep cultural significance.

President Obama has kicked off his three-day visit to Alaska by officially restoring Denali as the name of North America’s tallest peak.

His decision ends a 40-year battle over what to call the 20,300-foot mountain.

The federal government named it Mount McKinley in 1896 after a gold prospector exploring the region heard that Ohioan William McKinley, a supporter of the gold standard, had won the Republican nomination for president.

But to Alaska natives the mountain has always been Denali, “the high one” in Athabascan. The Alaskan government sided with them in 1975, when it officially restored the original name and started to push Washington to do the same.

Now it’s Ohioans who are fighting back. Ohio lawmakers have widely denounced Mr. Obama’s decision to strip the peak of its name honoring their state’s native son, who served as president from 1897 until his assassination in 1901.

"This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans, and I will be working with the House Committee on Natural Resources to determine what can be done to prevent this action," Rep. Bob Gibbs (R) of Ohio told the Associated Press.

House Speaker John Boehner said he was deeply disappointed in the decision to rename the mountain. But with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell given the legal authority to rename the mountain, it appears likely to stick, at least for now.

The decision has received widespread praise in Alaska, a staunch Republican state that has not been widely supportive of Obama.

"I'd like to thank the president for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honor, respect, and gratitude to the Athabascan people of Alaska," Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska, who led the fight for the Denali name in Congress, told Reuters.

Obama’s bigger challenge over the next three days will be to rally support for his climate change agenda. He hopes to raise the sense of urgency by calling attention to Alaska’s threatened wildlife and stunning natural beauty. As the AP reports:

Obama and [Secretary of State John] Kerry are intensely focused on a global climate treaty that nations hope to finalize in December, as the president works to secure his environmental legacy before leaving office. The president has pledged a U.S. cut in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 28 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, and planned to use the Alaska visit to press other nations to commit to similarly ambitious measures.

An oil-rich state, Alaska is likely to prove less receptive to Obama’s proposed regulations to reduce carbon emissions.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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