Alaska Senate President Charlie Huggins and Alaska House Speaker Mike Chenault appointed us as Co-Chairs of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission (AAPC). It is an honor and a responsibility that we accept with humility.
The Commission will be holding it's first meeting in Juneau, from Noon-6 PM, Saturday, March 23, 2013 in the Centennial Hall at 101 Egan Drive. This public meeting will also be streamed live at www.akl.tv.
The meeting will include presentations from Alaska Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell; Governor Parnell's Special Assistant Stefanie Moreland; United States Arctic Research Commission Chair Fran Ulmer; the U.S. Department of Interior Secretary's Special Assistant Pat Pourchot; Distinguished UAF Professor Dr. Lawson Brigham; Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule and the former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State/former Alaska Attorney General serving currently as Alaska's Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, Dan Sullivan.
The Commission is made up of 26 Commissioners, including 10 Legislators and 16 experts from throughout the state. We are excited about the diverse skill-sets this Commission exemplifies – an outstanding Alaskan team to help consider and formulate Alaska Arctic policies that will enhance federal policy for our mutual benefit.
To tell the story of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, we must first revisit the ALASKA NORTHERN WATERS TASK FORCE (ANWTF). The ANWTF was a panel legislatively formed in 2010 to delineate Alaska's interests in the Arctic. ANWTF's final report has been available since January 2012. The report detailed six categories of opportunity and concern: Oil & Gas Development, Marine Transportation, Fisheries, Infrastructure, Research, and Arctic Governance. In the report's Governance section, the ANWTF suggested the creation of an Alaska Arctic Policy Commission (AAPC), subsequently formed by HCR 23 during the 2012 legislative session.
Whereas the ANWTF scoped out the issues and questions surrounding Alaska and Arctic policy, the AAPC will have the tougher task to attempt to answer these questions and formulate in detail what Alaska's Arctic policy may or should be. As a side note, our Canadian friends in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut created their own sub-national Arctic policy in their Northern Vision in 2007. Although the AAPC product will no doubt look very different, we will examine this and other processes to inform our own work.
Topics covered by the AAPC will include, but not be limited to, Indigenous people, Oil & Gas Development, Mining, Fisheries, Energy, Science, Traditional Knowledge, Research, Climate Change, Governance, Arctic Council, Planning & Infrastructure Development, Marine Transportation, National Homeland Security, and Coast Guard Operations.
Alaska is the reason the United States is an Arctic nation. Arctic policy is important to all of Alaska and the entire United States, but the immediate stakeholders are those who actually live in Alaska and Alaska's Arctic. Costs are high and living conditions are challenging. Indigenous rights and governance issues must be respected, food security carefully realized, resources managed responsibly, and an affordable energy future secured.
One of the most important aspects of the AAPC's work will be positively influencing federal Arctic policy. Toward that end, the Commission will compile a list of all the current federal programs that directly affect Arctic Alaska and Arctic policy, and track and thoroughly investigate each program. These findings will inform the Commission's Final Report.
With other Alaska legislators, we both attended the Arctic Caucus in Washington, DC this last March 7th. The Arctic Caucus is a working group within the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) that includes members from Alaska, Yukon, and Northwest Territories and meets to explore issues of common interest.
In DC, we realized where Alaska is within the evolving U.S. Arctic policy.
The US federal government is quickly moving forward with Arctic policy planning. Of the many policies in progress, three were of primary concern: a report to the President on Integrated Arctic Management; the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan; and the United States Arctic Marine Transportation System Report.
As Alaskans, we cannot let Washington, DC dictate our Arctic destiny without our influence. If Alaska doesn't weigh in soon, the federal government will be writing the future of our Arctic—on our behalf.
Statutorily, the Commission must complete a preliminary report by January 30, 2014 and a final report by January 30, 2015. But considering the pace at which the federal government is developing their Arctic policy, as Co-Chairs we believe that in order to have primary input, the Commission must prepare an early preliminary draft report by the end of this June 2013.
At the May, 2013 ministerial meeting, Canada will assume chairmanship of the Arctic Council – an intergovernmental group formed in 1996 that includes representatives from all eight Arctic nations and six indigenous organizations, four of which have members in Alaska. In 2015, the United States will assume the responsibility of chair of the Arctic Council. America could act as Canada's "wingman" during their chairmanship, and in 2015, Canada as America's wingman. Canada has announced that their chairmanship will focus on "development for the people of the North," with sub-themes of responsible Arctic resource development, safe Arctic shipping, and sustainable circumpolar communities. The United States may adopt a similar imperative as the future Arctic Council Chair, but currently other emphases are being measured.
Historically, the two countries do partner closely in the Arctic in many areas including economic development, defense and important research such as mapping the Arctic seabed.
The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission's deliberations and recommendations will be instrumental in assuring that Alaska encourages an enduring partnership throughout and after the four-year North American Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.
After years of encouragement from many Alaskans, including Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell and our own Arctic Elders, the federal government is taking a greater interest in Arctic international affairs. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was the highest level American official to attend an Arctic Council meeting when she went to Nuuk, Greenland in May 2011. In an effort to encourage this momentum, the Commission may endorse two Alaska legislative resolutions: one requesting that Secretary of State John Kerry personally attend the next Arctic Caucus meeting in Sweden; and the second one relating to the presence and interests of the state and the nation in the Arctic; appointment of a representative of the state to the Arctic Council; funding for icebreakers; and to United States Coast Guard operations and facilities in the Arctic.
It is vital that the United States participate at the highest level in order to further America's, and Alaska's, interests in the Arctic.
In order to fully capitalize on the opportunities, Alaska's Arctic requires infrastructure perhaps more than anything else.
The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities and the United States Army Corps of Engineers are in the process of working on a Deep-Draft Arctic Port Study. The draft results of the first year of that study were released January 30.
Representative Herron has also introduced a bill to create the Alaska Arctic Port and Development Authority, whose board would be responsible for developing, in consultation with federal, state, and private institutions, including USDOT and US Army Corps of Engineers, a comprehensive plan for a regional system of ports including a deep-water port and related facilities. Rather than developing a port here and a port there, a holistic plan to maximize efficiencies of the entire port system in Alaska's Arctic should be formulated.
Some of the other top infrastructure needs include roads to resources; a forward U.S. Coast Guard base in the Arctic; icebreakers and other ice-capable vessels; search & rescue coordination centers along the Arctic coast; and broadband internet.
Another important Arctic policy issue for Alaska that is receiving serious attention is offshore oil royalties. Under current law, the federal government would receive 100% of the royalties for any oil produced beyond 6 miles offshore Alaska. Both Senators Murkowski and Begich and Congressman Young are working to secure, through Congress, a portion of these royalties for Alaska. While Alaska would see non-royalty benefits from offshore oil development in jobs and thru-put oil in our legacy pipeline, without any royalties for the state, offshore development would represent an unfunded responsibility or mandate upon our people, infrastructure and environment. Recently, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas won a 37.5-percent share of federal royalties from lease sales and development off their shores. Now it is Alaska's turn.
In conclusion, the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will provide an opportunity to remain engaged in the ongoing Arctic dialogue and debate and positively shape our state's and our country's Arctic policy.
Over the next 22 months, the AAPC will hold hearings around the state and AAPC experts will form into legislator-led working groups to track federal processes, delve into the details of Arctic policy, and digest input from a broad spectrum of Alaskans. We strongly encourage Alaskans to engage in this process and help the Commission increase the significance of its work.
Some possibilities for what the Commission will accomplish include: a detailed Alaska Arctic policy report to inform the public and future policy-makers; working with our federal partners to create Arctic policy that helps Alaskans; setting guiding Arctic policy principles in statute; and suggesting ways to best utilize state and federal capital project dollars in the Arctic.
The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will provide the opportunity for Alaskans to remain effectively involved in the ongoing Arctic dialogue and debate and positively shape our Arctic policy.
Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage) has served in the Alaska State House of Representatives and Senate since 2001. During her presidency of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region group, Sen. McGuire successfully advocated for the creation of the Arctic Caucus. In 2012 she sponsored SJR 17, supporting the Arctic Council Task Force.
Bob Herron (D-Bethel) has served in the Alaska Legislature since 2008. A member of the Northern Waters Task Force, Rep. Herron sponsored HJR 15 in 2011, supporting the Arctic Caucus; and in 2012 sponsored HJR 34, asking Congress to fund icebreakers and a Coast Guard Arctic base.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.