Remarks to 4th Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminished Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations

June 21, 2011 ***As Prepared For Delivery***

Sen. Murkowski Remarks : 4th Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminished Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations

June 21, 2011 at 9:20 a.m.   Navy Memorial

***As Prepared For Delivery***

Thank you and good morning.  I am very pleased to be here at the Fourth Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminished Arctic.  I continue to be impressed by the support for the conference, the caliber of your speakers and the continued interest in the issue.

Clearly, the impacts of an ice-diminished Arctic are being felt significantly in my home state of Alaska.  We have seen the dramatic effects that a warming Arctic are having on the region and it looks like the low ice extent is continuing as May of this year was the third lowest for the month since 1979. 

Interest in the Arctic continues to grow, both nationally and internationally, as globalization and increased maritime commerce and resource development, due primarily to the affects of climate change, capture the public’s interest.

I was just in Alaska this past weekend for the Arctic Imperative.  I thought all the Arctic experts were up at that conference, but as I look around the room, I see that not everyone is up in Alaska.  The problem is that we are well covered here in DC and in Alaska, but in the middle of the country, we still have work to do.  I continually am working to convince the people in Iowa and Arkansas and other states that we are an Arctic nation and why it is important.

As many of you know, I recently attended the 7th Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Nuuk, Greenland with Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of the Interior Salazar. 

The trip was historic because it was the first time a Secretary of State has led the United States delegation to an Arctic Council meeting.  It was also the first time a member of Congress has attended.

We met with the foreign ministers of the eight Arctic Council nations and representatives of indigenous groups to discuss issues related to Arctic governance, climate change, environmental protection, and watched the ministers sign a historic search and rescue agreement. 

As an Alaskan, It was music to my ears to hear Secretary Clinton say that the United States is an Arctic nation and as such we have responsibilities in the region.  We are an Arctic nation because of Alaska and its indigenous people.  The acknowledgement by the Secretary was also important for the other Arctic nations to hear, as many representatives have wondered when the U.S. would step it up in the Arctic.  There were other positive outcomes from the meeting in Nuuk.

The Search and Rescue agreement, the first ever legally binding agreement among Arctic states negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council, will strengthen the cooperation on search and rescue between Arctic states.  As Arctic sea ice decreases, maritime activities are increasing in the Arctic. Aviation traffic is also on the rise as new polar aviation routes cross the Arctic air space in several directions.  Limited rescue resources, challenging weather conditions, and the remoteness of the area render SAR operations difficult in the Arctic, making coordination among the Arctic nations imperative.

I was pleased that the Arctic Council also announced the formation of a new task force that will negotiate measures for oil spill preparedness and response throughout the region.   

The decision to start these negotiations is evidence of the strong commitment to proactively address budding issues in the region and to create international protocols to prevent and respond to offshore oil spills in areas of the region that are becoming increasingly accessible to exploration.  The conference was also important to learn what others in the region are doing.

I have to tell you, it is frustrating to see the United States struggling so mightily with our economy and the present fiscal environment while the other Arctic nations are moving forward with significant investments in the region. 

Russia has recognized that their natural resource future lies in the Arctic and they are investing heavily.  It was very significant when, after 40 years of negotiating, Norway and Russia signed a historic new treaty on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean. There had been a long history of cooperation on straddling fish stocks, but the new treaty also addresses energy development across the new boundary and created a joint operating agreement.  This treaty also provides an excellent example of the type of international cooperation that is possible in the Arctic.

The Russians are investing in the port of Murmansk as the base for the Russian Arctic with marine infrastructure.  Some of the critical investments will be public-private partnerships including foreign capital. They are also contemplating upgrading their nuclear ice breaker fleet while continuing to build ice strengthened commercial ships to carry minerals, hydrocarbons, passengers and cargo through ice covered northern waters.

In the United States, however, it is a different story.  While the Coast Guard, Navy and Army Corps of Engineers continue to study the potential infrastructure needs in Alaska, we are not moving forward with any significant new investments, or strategies to do so.  With the scheduled decommissioning of the POLAR SEA, the Coast Guard will only maintain one heavy ice breaker in its fleet, which is not expected to return to service until 2013. 

I believe there is widespread agreement that U.S. policy has recognized the strategic importance of the Arctic to the national and economic security of the country, but we are doing very little to increase our capability to implement our policies.  Beyond Russia, the other Arctic nations are also investing in infrastructure for energy development and maritime commerce, and much of this investment is from international companies in partnership with Arctic states. 

Given the lack of infrastructure in the Alaskan Arctic, it is crucial to promote this type of investment.  One of the major differences is the lack of regulatory certainty in the United States that prohibits investment.  While oil companies have invested billions of dollars in off-shore leases, we are yet to drill an exploratory well.  Whether regulatory hurdles or litigation are responsible, it appears that until there is certainty in the regulatory environment, both State and Federal investment in Arctic infrastructure will be a challenge in the United States. 

Another impediment is the lack of a coherent energy policy for the Arctic.  The United States simply does not have one.  We know we have tremendous resources up north, potentially 30 billion barrels of oil equivalent in off-shore Alaska, not to mention the billions of oil reserves in ANWR and the National Petroleum Reserve- Alaska.  We talk a lot about sustainable development, but a clear statement to guide activities, investment and to prioritize federal resources is necessary in moving forward with development in these areas.

One area we are in strong agreement is the need for continued and enhanced international scientific cooperation.  We have made tremendous progress through instruments like the International Polar year and other agreement and I am happy to see so much of the research to be presented during the symposium.

 I see the need for continued cooperative research in areas such as Arctic climate and ice modeling; baseline ecosystem indicators; oil spill mitigation and response; resource damage assessments and many other areas.

So, what does the future hold for the Arctic?  I believe that the pace of change in the Arctic DEMANDS that greater attention be focused on the region. The implications of the dynamic changing Arctic for U.S. security, economic, environmental, and political interests depend on it.

I give you all my commitment that I will do my part to move the Law of the Sea Treaty through the Senate;  to advocate for new ice breakers and infrastructure in the Arctic;  to support Arctic research and  to encourage the United States to continue increasing its’ role in the region and with the international Arctic community.

And I challenge all of you, as Arctic leaders in this country and abroad, to help move the Arctic conversation forward and provide us all with valuable insight, analysis and initiatives.

I hope you have a very productive conference and I look forward to catching up on the presentations and dialogue.  Thank you.