VIDEO REMARKS: Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Alaska Arctic Roundtable

Hello and thank you for this opportunity to participate in the Alaska Arctic Ocean Leadership Roundtable via video message.  Let me first compliment the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative for making the effort to travel to Alaska and seek out the views of Alaska’s Arctic stakeholders.

This past Friday, the United States assumed the chair of the Arctic Council at the Ministerial Meeting in Iqaluit, Canada.  The eyes of the world are now on the United States to demonstrate its leadership in the Arctic region.  The question is, and has been, what will that leadership result in?

The concern of many in Alaska is that under the current Administration, the United States’ policies toward the Arctic are heavy on climate change goals, but detrimental to actual economic activity.  There is an appreciation in Alaska for Canada’s Arctic Council theme of “Development for the people of the North.”

A focus on the people of the North is simply one aspect that cannot be overlooked.  The U.S. agenda cannot forget about the people who live in the Arctic – those who will be impacted the most by decisions made thousands of miles away.  That needs to be priority number one.

A second consideration that goes hand and hand with the first is that environmental protection and economic activity are not, and cannot be, mutually exclusive goals.  They are already happening conjunctively in the Arctic.  Our indigenous populations are not just our first peoples, they are also our first environmentalists who depend upon the sustainable vitality of the resources around them for current and future generations – a position all in Alaska ascribe to. 

The land and water sustains us, nurtures us, feeds us and drives our economies.  We must manage our oceans and land with the environmental stewardship that is inherent in those who rely upon its bounty, but caring for the environment is not inconsistent with our other goals; providing jobs in the region and addressing our energy security needs as a Nation.  Unfortunately, not all policy makers recognize this reality.

At a recent Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Arctic, some members of the Committee commented on the “irony” of Alaska’s support for oil and gas development, while noting the impact climate change is having on our state, our communities, and our people.  They suggested that those who are feeling the impact of climate change the most should be leaders in moving away from fossil fuels.

There is no irony to Alaskans.  As Mayor Charlotte Brower testified, oil development on Alaska’s North Slope brought 200 years’ worth of economic development and advancement in a period of roughly 30 years.  Those who oppose such development would apparently rather the Inupiat Eskimo remain a semi nomadic people, living in sod homes, melting ice and snow for water, and using whale oil for heat instead of using the resources of the region to advance their quality of life.

Opponents of natural resource development in the Arctic act as if those who live in the region are the cause of climate change, and forcing Alaskans into a level of destitution is the solution.  We have never asked any populated part of this country to preserve itself like a museum exhibit – nor should we ask that today. 

That is the reality on the ground and what those who develop the United States’ policies and priorities for the Arctic need to remember.  Their decisions can either help those who live in the Arctic continue to advance, or they can treat the residents as a museum piece – forever stuck in time.

Museum pieces, however, do not build upon our status as an Arctic nation.  Our Arctic opportunity is in front of us, and our policies need to recognize this fact.

I would like to leave you with two final thoughts on policy priorities.  I encourage Congress and the Obama Administration to support revenue sharing measures so that the local communities and states that bear the costs of resource development are also ensured of its benefits as well.

I also encourage the United States to recognize the formal connection between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council – a forum that facilitates Arctic business to business activities and responsible economic development.  The U.S. is next in line to chair the Economic Council, but our own government needs to demonstrate its support for the AEC’s future and for economic development in the Arctic, for the benefit of those who live there and for the Nation.

Again, thank you for this opportunity to address you via video message and best wishes for a successful Roundtable.