Saturday, February 7, 2015

Alaska looks to future; New state Arctic policy reflects views and concerns of the state’s inhabitants

Alan Bailey
Petroleum News

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission has published its final report setting out an Alaska perspective for the future of the state’s Arctic region. The report, a result of a more than a year’s work by a team that convened public meetings across the state to gather the views of the state’s inhabitants, emphasizes a need for economic development in the Arctic, coupled with the maintenance of a healthy environment; collaboration between a wide variety of organizations; and respect for the culture and knowledge of the Arctic people.

The Alaska Legislature established the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission during the 2012 legislative session to formulate a state policy and implementation strategy, to help the state take a leadership role in a continuing national and international Arctic dialogue. The federal government has been formulating its own Arctic policy, as the United States prepares to take over in April the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the intergovernmental forum of the eight Arctic nations. Alaska officials have been concerned to ensure that the state has a clear vision of its Arctic priorities.

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, chaired by Sen. Lesil McGuire and Rep. Bob Herron, consists of 10 members of the Legislature and 16 people from a variety of backgrounds, including the state administration, the federal government, rural communities; the fishing, oil, mining and shipping industries; academia and conservation groups.

Underpins Alaska

During a Feb. 2 press conference announcing publication of the commission’s report Sen. McGuire said that the Arctic underpins Alaska’s identity.

“Alaskans fundamentally all view themselves as Arctic,” McGuire said. “I think that’s a really exciting part of what we bring forward in the report.”

With the policy being directed at the state Legislature, the state’s executive branch and the federal government, the hope is that people will look to Alaskans for views on the Arctic, rather than just looking at the region through the lens of Washington, D.C., McGuire said.

“The commission operated under the conviction that the state is an active and willing leader and a partner and a sovereign in Arctic decision making, with reliable expertise and experience,” she said.

Vision statement The completed policy report presents four primary vision statements for Alaska’s Arctic region:

  • A commitment to vibrant communities sustained by development activities consistent with the state’s responsibility for a healthy environment.
  • Collaboration between government, tribes, industry and non-governmental organizations for transparent and inclusive Arctic decision-making for more informed, sustainable and beneficial outcomes. •Achieving a safe and secure Arctic for individuals and communities.
  • Valuing and strengthening the resilience of communities, with respect for and the integration of the culture and knowledge of Arctic peoples.

Economic development

In terms of economic development, the policy wants to see benefits accruing to Arctic residents and communities. There need to be improved government permitting and regulatory processes, as well as an attractive investment climate, supported by the development of strategic infrastructure, the report says. There need to be sustained approaches to responding to the changing Arctic climate. And it is necessary to encourage industrial and technical innovation, seeking emerging opportunities and addressing challenges.

Stakeholder cooperation needs to include the maintenance of international relationships through organizations such as the Arctic Council and through support for U.S. ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the policy report says.

Safety and security arrangements in the Arctic must include enhanced disaster preparedness, including enhanced capabilities for oil spill prevention and response, and for rescue operations. Maritime transportation needs to be safe, secure and reliable. Appropriate infrastructure needs to be sustained or developed. And there needs to be an increased Arctic U.S. Coast Guard presence.

Achieving community resilience must include a recognition of Arctic indigenous peoples’ culture and their relationship to the environment, including their traditional reliance on a subsistence way of life. Strategic planning for the Arctic must consider scientific, local and traditional knowledge, while people must also encourage the more effective integration of local and traditional knowledge into scientific research and into resource management decision making.

Implementation plan

The commission’s report also presents an implementation plan for achieving the policy’s vision. The implementation plan lists things that need be done under four lines of effort: economic and resource development; addressing emergency response capacity; supporting healthy communities; and the strengthening of Arctic science and research.

The promotion of economic and resource development should include actions such as the development of Arctic port systems; taking a lead in collaborative efforts to achieve efficient government permitting; the promotion of prudent oil and gas exploration and development, with support for the multiple uses of public lands; and the encouragement of investment through stable, predictable and competitive tax policies.

Addressing gaps in Arctic emergency response capabilities needs to include support for improvements in communications and mapping; expanding systems for monitoring and communicating Arctic maritime information; and assuring the availability of oil spill prevention and response resources. A strengthening of private, public and non-profit oil spill response organizations would ensure an ability to support oil spill response contingency plans and to operate effectively in the Arctic, the report says.

Healthy communities

Support for healthy Arctic communities would include initiatives to reduce the cost of power and heating in rural Alaska; anticipating and responding to the impacts of climate change; and promoting practices for sustaining subsistence resources while protecting against the impacts of over-zealous Endangered Species Act designations. Strengthening science and research would require improved collaboration within the research community; strengthened efforts to incorporate local and traditional knowledge into research; and support for data collection for research into Arctic ecosystems and regional climate change. The state should ensure adequate funding for Arctic research in the University of Alaska, the report says.

Proposed bill

The commission’s report also includes the wording of a proposed bill for enacting the state’s Arctic policy. McGuire said that this proposed legislation is being introduced as Senate Bill 16 and House Bill 1 in the current legislative session. Rep. Herron told the Feb. 2 press conference that, rather than being a prioritized list of actions, the policy implementation plan should be viewed as a menu of desired action items, with individual legislators able to pick up on individual items that they wish to pursue. However, given the fact that U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council is just three months away, the commission has already requested Gov. Walker to help in establishing a state committee for hosting Arctic Council meetings, Herron said. With 15 to 18 world leaders periodically coming to Alaska to conduct Arctic Council meetings, it is imperative that the state plays a role as meeting host, he said.

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