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Lisa M.
Republican AK

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  • Arctic Development

    by Senator Lisa Murkowski

    Posted on 2014-04-07

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    MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I have come to the floor today to discuss the opportunity we have as a nation to truly take a leadership role when it comes to responsible development of the Arctic region. As we discuss the great opportunities and the challenges that face us, I think it is fair to say that I will also be expressing some disappointment with the general lack of resources our Federal Government has invested in this important issue, including, just most recently, through the President's annual budget request.



    Back in May 2013 the Obama administration released its ``National Strategy for the Arctic Region.'' The national strategy was really designed to set forth this government's strategic priorities for the Arctic--pretty important to recognize what our priorities are going forward. While that might sound impressive--a national strategy for the Arctic region--what we ended up seeing was just an 11-page document, and it is really hard to describe it as strategic. Perhaps a more accurate description is that it was a glorified memo, a general outline, but there were a lot of gaps that needed to be filled.

    Recognizing that this is a new area for us in terms of opportunities and, really, for vision, I was prepared to sit back and listen to what the administration had to say and work with them as they built this strategic vision. So when they released their implementation plan for the national strategy in late January, I was looking forward to it. I was looking forward to what had been gathered in meetings not only in Alaska--the State of Alaska is what makes the United States an Arctic nation--but it was broader than just Alaskans' input; it was input from so many of our agencies, so many of our departments. Yet, when the implementation of our national strategy was released, I have to admit that, again, I was underwhelmed.

    I made certain the President and members of the administration knew my concerns, and I told him--these were my words when I wrote to him-- my concern was that his plan does not offer a vision to make the United States a leader in the Arctic, particularly as we prepare for the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in May 2015, nor does it suggest that the Arctic is a national priority. Instead, the plan provides a snapshot of existing Arctic-related programs and projects with numerous assessments to be undertaken but no real path of action.

    [[Page S2171]] It was important to me as someone who cares very deeply about our role as an Arctic nation and our role not only within the confines of the Federal Government but our role going forward in the world among the other Arctic nations and truly all of the nations throughout our planet in terms of where the United States sits when it comes to our vision and our view for the Arctic.

    The administration's plan would maintain our rather meager status quo in the Arctic while the other Arctic nations--the rest of the international community--seem to be devoting increasing amounts of resources to the region.

    It would also leave the residents of the Far North--U.S. citizens up there in Alaska--out in the cold when it comes to the U.S. Government's own priorities. Rather than advance an agenda that will benefit those who live in the Arctic, they are, instead, regulated to being part of a science project for observation and conservation.

    Let me give you an example of that.

    One of the proposed initiatives within the implementation plan is to ``Improve Arctic Community Sustainability, Well-being, and Cultural and Linguistic Heritage.'' I have to say, that is a pretty laudable goal. We certainly want to maintain, we certainly want to pass down the culture of our indigenous populations to future generations. We certainly want to improve their quality of life. Yet within this initiative, the administration has designated the Smithsonian Institution to be the lead agency for this particular initiative. It is as if the people of the Far North--it is as if the Inuit, the Eskimo, the Aleut, the Yupik--are somehow or other people to be observed as part of a museum exhibit or perhaps placed under a glass bubble.

    Combine this with the implementation plan's heavy emphasis on conservation, research into climate change, and preemption of development on State Native and Federal lands, and it is difficult for me to see any support by this administration for economic development, for job creation, or really for a better quality of life for the people who live in the Far North.

    So again, when we talk about the ``Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region,'' climate is absolutely an issue that needs to be discussed and addressed--absolutely. Development issues clearly need to be addressed. Conservation clearly needs to be addressed. But we have to remember there are people who live and raise their families and work up in the Arctic. So making sure we are thinking about them as we advance an implementation plan is key.

    But even with the implementation plan being rolled out in January, I thought: OK, there is still not enough meat on the bones here for me to understand how we move forward with a set of priorities, a real vision for the Arctic. But I knew the President's budget was going to be coming out in March, and that is the opportunity for any President to establish his or her priorities when it comes to the budget.

    So I held out hope that when we saw the fiscal year 2015 budget request that was where we would finally start to see some kind of a coherent strategy come together. I expected it would at least demonstrate the administration's desire to show some level of leadership in the Arctic. My office was told that part of the purpose of the implementation plan and the designation of lead and support agencies was to gain an ability to propose jointly supported Arctic projects that OMB would then deem important enough to be included in the budget request.

    But, again, we looked through the budget, and I am disappointed, sorely disappointed. My immediate reaction to the budget request was we are seeing so much spending here through the budget proposal, but yet so very little attention paid to our needs and our opportunities in the Arctic.

    A search of the 1,400-plus page detailed appendix for the administration's budget reveals only 5 requests--5 requests--for Arctic-related activity. Two are for longstanding programs that have been funded for many years. One is the U.S. Arctic Research Commission--very important--and then, of course, the North Pacific Research Board. Another is for international fisheries work done through the Arctic Council. And the last two are for climate change- related activities. That is it. Five references--five references--out of a 1,400-plus page appendix for the budget speak to any Arctic- related activity.

    Now, you may ask why I am disappointed, underwhelmed, perhaps a little bit agitated about where we are with advancing an implementation plan, a strategic vision for the Arctic. Well, in about a year from now, the United States will take over the chair of the Arctic Council. That chairmanship is currently held by Canada.

    I have had opportunities to sit down with the chair of the Arctic Council, Leona Aglukkaq, who is from the Nunavut area, and talk about what Canada is doing to really lead in so many different areas when it comes to Arctic policy and Arctic strategy--not only for their nation but all the Arctic nations and beyond.

    I look with a little bit of longing at how Canada has truly embraced their leadership role as an Arctic nation, not only with statements of intention that are backed up by real resources, but an appreciation for what the future can hold for the Arctic.

    So over the last several weeks we have had our Appropriations subcommittees that are really starting to kick into gear here, and I have had the opportunity to ask several Cabinet members--Secretary Johnson from the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Jewell from the Department of Interior--I have had a chance to ask both of them about their Departments' budget priorities for the Arctic and, specifically, the programs for which their Departments have been designated as the lead agency within this implementation plan for fiscal year 2015. And both Cabinet members have assured me, they have said, yes, the Arctic is a priority, it is important to the United States. But neither one of these Cabinet members could tell me what their Department's budget request contained for the Arctic. They have assured me they are going to be going back and seeing if they cannot fill in those details for me, but, to me, that is symbolic of the Arctic's overall standing within the administration. There are lots of good words when asked about it. Everyone is saying, yes, it should be a priority. But yet it does not seem to be important enough to be proactive on or to even be familiar with without prompting.

    We all know that any President's budget request, regardless of party, is not likely to be enacted word for word, and, quite honestly, recognizing politics, more likely than not it is not going to be enacted at all. But if a budget request does signify something, it is the message, it is the signal of what the administration's priorities for that fiscal year and beyond are.

    So it is apparent, at least in my view, that this administration is not willing to devote the resources necessary to make the Arctic a true priority. That, to me, is very shortsighted. I think it is a failure of leadership, a failure to think ahead and to take the long view.

    I recognize, as we all do, that we are at a time of budget constraint and restraint, that there is competition for all dollars, as we look to make wise decisions here. But as we are setting priorities, as we are thinking toward the future and a longer term view, we have to ensure-- we have to ensure--that the Arctic is placed as a priority. Some people would ask why we should care about it. Is this just an Alaska-specific issue? Are these just Alaska projects we are talking about? Why should the Arctic really matter to the United States? First, the reality is that the Arctic is a relatively blank slate right now. It is not presently an area that is subject to longstanding disputes or entrenched views. Think about the significance of that. When you look at the Arctic, you have your eight Arctic nations around it, but whether it is Finland, Norway, Canada, the United States, Russia, the area that occupies the Arctic is not one that is known for conflict.

    Think about the role Secretary Kerry has. He does not have to worry about hotspots in the Arctic in the sense of political hotspots. You just do not have those longstanding disputes. It is not a hotspot for potential conflict. It is, however, a region that is garnering increased international attention and recognition because of its tremendous potential, and it is generating cooperation amongst Arctic nations. Now, [[Page S2172]] isn't that a concept--that something is actually generating cooperation? Let me give you an example. I was at the 2013 Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Sweden, and I was there with Secretary Kerry. When you think about the issues in front of our Secretary of State, at that time back in May, there was no shortage of differences and disagreements with the Russian Government at that moment. Yet at that ministerial meeting, we had Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov side by side signing a binding agreement on oilspill preparedness and response capabilities in the Arctic. But this was all going on while differences over Syria and U.S. Embassy spy charges were hanging over their heads. So despite all the other issues those two gentlemen were dealing with, they were able to come together in Sweden and join on to a joint document of cooperation among Arctic nations as it related to oilspill preparedness and response capabilities. From a foreign policy perspective, the Arctic is an area for cooperation and relationship building, and that is a good and a positive that we should look to build on.

    From an economic perspective, our neighbors--Russia to the west and Canada to the east--continue with aggressive national plans that include state investment to develop northern resources and advance commerce in the region. They know--they know all too well--that this will help create jobs and economic growth in areas that face extraordinary challenges.

    A recent report by the Norwegian Shipowners' Association shows that the regions bordering the Arctic Ocean are experiencing higher annual economic growth than the rest of their respective nations on average and are considered drivers for economic growth in the Arctic countries.

    Russia's territorial claim to a large swath of the Arctic seabed received a boost when an area in the Sea of Okhotsk was recognized as part of its extended continental shelf by the same commission examining its Arctic claims. These are territorial claims that Russia is able to make because they are a party to the Convention of the Law of the Sea, while the United States is not.

    I will just make a particular aside at this point in time that I have long been a proponent of the U.S. Senate ratifying the Convention on the Law of the Sea. As we engage in the Arctic, as we not only work on areas of cooperation, I think we need to ensure that we, as an Arctic nation, have a seat at the table on the issues that face the Arctic. While we sit on the sidelines, because we have failed to ratify the law of the sea, we miss out. We miss out.

    Even non-Arctic nations are embracing the opportunities that come with diminished polar sea ice representing the transit benefits, conducting scientific research and moving ahead with resource exploration and development activities. Nations such as China, South Korea, and Japan each have icebreakers. China is in the process of constructing a second larger icebreaker. It is even India's intention to have an icebreaker by the end of 2016. Think how far India is from the Arctic.

    You may ask the question: Well, where is the United States when it comes to its number of icebreakers? We have one heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star. We have a second, the Polar Sea, which is going to effectively be mothballed. We have a medium breaker, the Healy, which is primarily used for research missions, and the useful life of the Polar Star is expected to be concluded in less than 10 years.

    Right now, as I talk to those within the administration about the plans to move forward on a polar icebreaker, it is pretty dismal. The proposal thus far in the President's budget is that there will be $6 million to advance, as far as studies go. We know we need a heavy polar-class icebreaker. In fact, we know we need three heavy icebreakers and three medium icebreakers. But it is a big capital investment. It has not been made a priority. It is yet one of those initiatives that I think we look at from a shortsighted perspective by failing to place an imperative on it now.

    Even Singapore--not exactly synonymous with the Arctic--has designated an Arctic ambassador and is actively participating in the Arctic Council and other Arctic-related forums around the globe.

    So there are non-Arctic nations that are building ice-capable ships. There are non-Arctic nations that are asking to be observers in the Arctic Council. There are non-Arctic nations stepping forward and saying: We want to have an Arctic ambassador, somebody who is there as part of the discussions on issues in an area of the globe that is evolving so quickly; where there are so many opportunities; where there are challenges, yes, but where there are so many opportunities. We want to be part of that.

    You would think the United States would not only jump in and say ``me too,'' but that we would be leading as one of the eight Arctic nations. This activity by other nations is going to continue--in fact, accelerate--regardless of whether the United States engages. But if we do engage, we will also benefit and we will also be in a better position to ensure that any development, that any commerce, that any activity is carried out safely and responsibly.

    There is a lot of discussion about the energy potential, the potential for natural resource wealth and what that might bring to the Arctic. This is a map that shows the extent of the yearlong ice in the Arctic. Setting aside the natural resource potential, which is in the range of 30 billion barrels of oil and 220 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the United States Arctic OCS alone--we recognize that the natural resource potential is significant, but it is not just about the natural resources. Let me give an example of the activity that is already underway in the Arctic, its impact on us here in the United States, and the opportunity our Nation has to embrace that potential.

    With the decreasing amount of sea ice in the Arctic, we are seeing a corresponding increase in maritime activity.

    So, again, this is a chart that shows the extent of the sea ice in the year 2000. So your sea ice is the whiter area, with your opportunities for maritime activity limited as you are moving through Canada here and even through Russia there.

    This next chart shows the extent of the sea ice and vessel activity in the Arctic in 2011. So you can see increased activity is taking place where the sea ice used to be. So here is the sea ice now, but notice the passage you have transiting through the Bering Strait, over the top of Alaska, through the Northwest Passage, and out over to Europe.

    Notice also going through the Northern Sea Route from Russia over to the Baltic States. The colored lines you see are not necessarily oil and gas exploration ships; they are cargo ships, they are tankers, and they are icebreakers. They are fishing vessels, research vessels, passenger vessels, cruise ships, and others. So in a decade, what you are seeing is a level of maritime traffic that is really unprecedented--and unprecedented because we have not had the ability to transit in these waters because they were locked by ice for almost the full extent of the year.

    So here is a closer look at the vessel activity in the Bering Strait region in 2013. So this is going to look like this amazing blur of color. But here we have Alaska. This is Russia. Where all of these lines seem to be converging, at the center here, is where we have Little Diomede and Big Diomede. Big Diomede is owned by Russia, Little Diomede is held by the United States, and 2.5 miles separates the two islands. In truth, we can see Russia from Little Diomede. I was there last summer.

    But when you appreciate that the distance between Alaska and Russia outside of the very narrow area between Big and Little Diomede is just 57 miles--we have a 57-mile choke point here in the Bering Strait where we have incredible amounts of maritime commerce coming through: tankers, cargo ships, tugs, towing ships, passenger vessels, fishing vessels, search and rescue, military, law enforcement, and others. This is what we are seeing in the year 2013. Transits have doubled in the past 5 years.

    The next chart comes from the recently released U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap. This map shows the predicted sea ice coverage by the year 2030. So here we were at 2012 with the sea ice covering all of this. By 2020 it is shrinking. Here it is by 2025, by 2030. This is the [[Page S2173]] predicted model for our sea ice coverage by 2030. We can see an even larger portion of the Arctic is expected to be open to maritime commerce.

    The Navy predicts that the traffic through the Bering Strait will double again in the next 10 years. Again, that is going to happen whether or not the United States participates. Foreign vessels, if not American vessels, will be traveling across Alaska's western and northern coast. That is a given.

    The last chart I have shows the Bering Strait as the gateway between the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans. Again, when we talk about Alaska, we are talking about its strategic geographic location, where it is on the globe. We are very proud of the military opportunities we have for amazing training ranges in Alaska when it comes to our assets in the air and on the ground.

    But look at where Alaska sits in terms of its strategic location to not only Asia--we are sitting literally halfway between Nagoya, Japan, and Seattle, Washington, when you are at Adak. It is just as easy for me to get to Japan as it is to get to Seattle if I go as the crow flies. Unfortunately, I do not have anything that will take me as the crow flies.

    But I think it is important for us to recognize this: That whether it is passage over the Northwest Passage, which is still relatively problematic, the increased traffic we are seeing from the Northern Sea Route coming over Russia, or potentially the transpolar route at some point in time, everything funnels through the Bering Strait here--the 57 miles between Russia and the United States--and then has to exit or cut through the Aleutian chain here.

    So when we think about where Alaska sits, we truly are the gateway between the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans. With the predicting of a doubling of vessel activity in the Arctic via the Bering Strait in the next 10 years, the time to develop the infrastructure and support capacity to handle this growing amount of traffic is now--actually, it was yesterday.

    This is not a region that is devoid of activity, but it is a region that lacks adequate levels of investment, government resources, and attention. Deepwater ports, navigational aids, search and rescue capabilities, and icebreakers are all needed now and, in addition, the basic charting of many of our Arctic waters, which some of us have recognized is seriously lacking. This is going to take a very collaborative effort across all of our agencies and working with our Arctic neighbors to achieve that.

    With a vision, it is not difficult to see how we could have a transshipment facility developed in the Aleutian chain to capitalize on the intersection between the North Pacific great circle route and the three Arctic Sea routes. Imagine you have cargo that is transiting the Arctic from Europe, coming from the Northwest Passage or coming over the Northern Sea Route.

    Imagine that cargo then being offloaded at Adak. Adak is a former Navy base and, quite honestly, the infrastructure that is there is-- well, it is a little bit old--pretty amazing. You could then offload in either Adak or Unalaska and load that cargo onto ships transiting the North Pacific and to the west coast--and vice versa.

    Ice-strengthened ships could be used entirely within the Arctic, rather than traveling all the way to Singapore or Hong Kong. It would save time, it would save money, and it would allow for an increased number of transits. I am looking at it and saying: This could be a real win, a win for consumers, a win for business, and a win for national security by being able to keep a closer eye on commerce traveling to the United States.

    It is clear--I hope it is clear--that people recognize that we have such opportunity, we have such capacity for opportunity and growth within the Arctic. But we have to be careful, we have to be considerate, and we have to be sure that the necessary resources and infrastructure necessary are there.

    The United States has never been last in a race to the future, but absent visionary leadership and meaningful resourcing, we will continue to take a back seat and fail to capitalize on all that the Arctic has to offer. We will miss out on resource development and shipping efficiencies and, in turn, new opportunities to create new jobs and generate needed economic growth.

    I don't believe that we can afford to sit idle any longer, which means that it is time for our Federal Government and this administration to really start taking the Arctic seriously and dedicate the necessary resources to the region.

    I don't mean to suggest that the efforts that have been made to date are not important. We have come quite far in the past few years, but you have to remember, we were starting from ground zero. There was nothing, really. We have made some strides, and it is important that we have these documents coming out of our agencies, and it is important that we have framework because it is on these that we will build. But I feel like I need to lend an air of urgency that it is not just about methodically chipping away year by year with yet another document-- another strategy plan that will sit on the bookshelf.

    I have a lot of those on the Arctic. I think many do. It is how we are a true participant in a level of engagement in a region that holds such excitement and such potential that nations around the world are turning their eyes northward with excitement and enthusiasm.

    The United States should be leading with equal enthusiasm about what our opportunities hold.

    I thank the Chair, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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