SPEECH: PNWER "North American Arctic Leaders Forum"

Good afternoon and thanks for the invitation to join you.  It’s great to welcome you back to Washington, DC – and on a day like this, it’s great to be with a group who knows how to handle a little snow. 

I’m glad you braved the weather to be here today.  And I’m excited to hear more about PNWER’s efforts to foster strong partnerships in the Pacific Northwest, and to extend our region’s influence across the country.

The Pacific Northwest is well-represented on energy policy in the Senate right now.  I’m privileged to lead the Energy Committee.  Senator Cantwell, from Washington State, is our new Ranking Member.  We also have Senator Risch from Idaho, Senator Wyden from Oregon, and Senator Daines from Montana – so all five Pacific Northwest states have a seat and a voice on our panel.  

If you’ve watched our Committee, you’ll know that we certainly don’t agree on everything.  But we do recognize the opportunity we have to enact sound federal policies that will help our home States.  And we also recognize our opportunity to build on our regional relationships, fostered by groups like PNWER, to bring ideas that have worked at home to the rest of our Nation.                                                                        

Right now, we’re focused on developing a broad energy bill, which we are setting out to write over the next couple of months.

The last time Congress passed a comprehensive energy bill was December 2007.  A lot has changed since then.  Energy production is a lot higher.  Energy prices are a lot lower.  We import less.  We’re more efficient.  We’re seeing serious innovation throughout the energy industry.

Those are all good trends.  But many others aren’t as good – like this Administration’s continued refusal to act on Keystone XL, its lock-it-all-down approach in Alaska, its general apathy towards the Arctic, and the ever-growing regulatory delays that investors and project developers must somehow navigate.  

There’s a lot we can do to improve our policies.  It’s a perfect time to undertake that work.  So I’ve challenged our Committee members to look at reforms in four main areas: infrastructure, supply, efficiency, and federal accountability.

I believe those titles can form the core of a good, bipartisan bill.  And as a region deeply experienced in energy issues, I believe the PNWER States will help provide the leadership and input needed to bring policies together that will serve us well for at least the next decade.                                                  

Part of our vision for a modernized energy policy must be a focus on the needs of those in our region who face the highest energy costs.

Whether it is a remote village in Alaska, communities in the Northwest Territories and Yukon, or rural communities across our states and provinces – energy poverty is one of the greatest challenges facing our citizens.

I ask PNWER to help us identify best practices and innovative programs in our region that can be shared and learned from.  Ideas that have worked in our home States can form the foundation of innovative policies at the federal level.

The Arctic is another key area.  To us, the Arctic is about the people who live there and the opportunities it brings to the world.  But for too many others, the Arctic is a proxy for global battles about climate change and an area to be studied from afar. 

PNWER was an early leader on Arctic policy and I thank you for your continued focus on the region.  Today that focus is as important as ever, because the United States is set to take over the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in just a few short weeks. 

Although we have seen some promising executive orders and individuals like Secretary Kerry showing leadership, we did not see substantive efforts in the President’s 2016 budget that are consistent with the responsibilities America has over the next two years.

We have also seen the President commit $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, an initiative within the United Nations that would help poor countries address climate change.  The President included the first installment for this effort – $500 million –in his proposed budget, but that far exceeds the assistance he wants to provide to communities in our country that need similar help.

In front of my Committee, in a budget hearing just last week, Interior Secretary Jewell could not articulate what was actually included in her Department’s budget for the Arctic.

Sadly, that was par for the course.  I’ve grown used to federal officials who just don’t see the Arctic as a broad opportunity for America and the world…who simply don’t understand that solving challenges in remote communities spurs innovation…or that new ways of bringing people together can provide new models for collaboration and policy innovation.

As leaders with an understanding of the Arctic and an appreciation for the opportunities it offers, I am hopeful you will continue your leadership – and I have a few ideas for how you might help do that.

First, reach out to your Senators and ask them to join the Arctic Caucus I am creating, along with Senator Angus King of Maine.

Second, help identify examples and ways in which the Arctic transcends national boundaries.  Help me demonstrate to my colleagues how we are all affected by the emerging economy and opportunity in the Arctic.

Third, take every opportunity you can find to remind others that Arctic policy must always spring from a focus on the people who live there.

As I close, I want to be sure to compliment the Canadian members of PNWER.  Your government has provided strong leadership on the Arctic and taken an appropriately balanced perspective.

We need more of that.  And with continued leadership from PNWER, I am confident we can move the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council toward a more holistic and substantive path than it is on now.

Thank you again for being here – and the chance to speak here today.