KTVA: Murkowski, Sullivan co-sponsor Arctic shipping, policy bills

Alaska’s U.S. senators are backing a pair of bills meant to establish a system of Arctic icebreakers and deep-water ports, as well as increase the state’s influence in U.S. policy decisions regarding the increasingly strategic region. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan introduced the Shipping and Environmental Arctic Leadership (SEAL) Act as well as the Arctic Policy Act on Thursday, according to a statement from Murkowski’s office. The SEAL Act is co-sponsored by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, while the Arctic Policy Act is co-sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

According to Arctic Today, the bills have been reintroduced after seeing little movement in Congress late last year.

A summary of the SEAL Act lays out a plan for a U.S. Arctic Seaway Development Corp., aligning various interests to provide ports and icebreakers in Alaska waters. Federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard, would partner with Alaska authorities and its business community to “develop services to Arctic shipping that are necessary for safe, secure, and reliable Arctic maritime activity.”

“Changes to the Arctic brought about by warming temperatures will inevitably result in an increase in international ship traffic in the Region,” Murkowski’s staff wrote. “An increase in shipping means greater demand for services, and processes to ensure that Arctic shipping can be reliable for shippers who need to transport their goods from one place to another.”

Murkowski’s staff say the resulting system, funded with voluntary maritime shipping fees, will be “an Arctic shipping union whose leadership will advocate for safe, secure, and reliable Arctic seaway development, and further ensure that the Arctic becomes a place of international cooperation rather than competition or conflict.”

Under the Arctic Policy Act, indigenous members of Arctic communities would receive three seats rather than one on the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, expanding the body from seven members to nine.

Two provisions would expand upon executive orders from President Obama, including making the Arctic Executive Steering Committee (AESC) permanent. The guiding body for U.S. Arctic policy has been dormant for about two years under President Trump, according to Arctic Today.

The Arctic Policy Act would place the committee under the secretary of Homeland Security, and also assemble two advisory bodies for it. The Arctic Advisory Committee would include members representing eight northern Alaska regions: Arctic Slope, North West Arctic, Norton Sound, Interior, Yukon-Kuskokwim, Bristol Bay, the Aleutian Islands, and the Pribilof Islands.

According to Murkowski's summary of the act, the Bering Sea Regional Tribal Advisory Group — established under an Obama executive order repealed in April 2017, shortly after Trump took office — would be reconvened. Its purpose, Murkowski’s staff said, would be “providing input and recommendations to the AESC on activities, regulations, guidance, the incorporation of traditional knowledge, or policies that may affect actions or conditions in the Northern Bering Sea and the Bering Strait.”

By:  Chris Klint
Source: KTVA