"We have an excellent pipeline in Alaska, except it is three-quarters empty," Walker said on a press call Tuesday. "So I'll talk to him about what we need to do to put more oil in the pipeline."
In a letter to Obama, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski urged the president to use his trip to learn about the diverse energy development in the state, but cautioned that "climate change must not be used as an excuse to deprive Alaskans of our best economic prospects."
It all speaks to the tightrope that Obama has had to walk when it comes to energy production, especially in Arctic waters. Green groups don't want to see any drilling, even under conditions that the administration says would make it as safe as possible. And energy boosters in the state say the White House has clamped down too much, especially by setting aside large swaths of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.
Obama arrives in Alaska on Monday to deliver remarks at a State Department conference on the Arctic, then will spend two more days traveling around the state. In a video announcing the visit, Obama said Alaska provided a "wake-up call" on climate change, and the White House says the trip is part of a month-long push on the issue after the release of the administration's Clean Power Plan.
The state is feeling the brunt of climate change—and Obama could meet with native Alaskans in the Arctic facing the first-hand challenge of sea-level rise.
But Alaska is also ground zero for a massive debate over expanded drilling, as oil companies look to Arctic waters for potentially vast oil fields. The debate kicked into high gear this summer when the Obama administration gave the green light for Shell to start drilling in the Chukchi Sea.
The White House has defended the permit, saying the Interior Department is making sure that the drilling is being done safely. But environmentalists say any movement towards oil production in the Arctic is going too far.
"Issuing Shell a permit to drill in the Arctic is going in the opposite direction of things like the Clean Power Plan," said Kirby Spangler, an organizer with Alaska Rising Tide. "It can't be done safely."
Arctic drilling is rapidly becoming a flash point for the environmental movement, especially with the fight over the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline nearing a close. Protesters in Seattle used kayaks to try to block a Shell vessel from leaving port, and protesters have been pushing on major Democrats to speak out against Arctic drilling (and were given a boost when presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton said she was opposed to it).
For Alaskan greens used to living on the fringe of the movement, they're hoping the trip can bring their issues back to the center.
"Normally in Anchorage, we're turning out 100 or 200 people if we're lucky, so it's really hard for us to know what's going to happen," said Spangler, who is helping to put together the rally in Anchorage. "There's a spotlight on us now, and that gives us a chance to point out the injustice of what's being done in the Arctic."