On August 3rd, the 50th anniversary of Alaskan statehood, Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) announced the introduction of a package of seven bills focused on developing and protecting the Arctic. Begich, a freshman senator who took over Ted Steven’s seat last November, sat out the traditional “waiting period” before giving his maiden speech on the floor of the Senate. He lived up to his reputation as one of the most active Arctic policymakers in the U.S. by introducing bills which focus on both domestic and foreign policy.
On the home front, Begich tries to balance development with science, research, and preservation. The first bill aims to develop revenue sharing of profits generated by oil drilling off the North Slope of Alaska. In the sixth bill, he is seeking to help coastal villages affected by global warming avoid further decline, namely by researching the causes underlying the medical maladies plaguing the Inuit population in Alaska. Alcohol abuse, suicide, and high blood pressure are all some of the more prevalent problems in the indigenous population. The former mayor of Anchorage connected the issue of Arctic health to the larger policy debate surrounding health care, saying that now is a better time than ever to discuss it. He observed,
“People saw the Arctic as not really important enough. But because the Arctic has become such a national issue and a worldwide issue, people see this now as a potential.”
In regards to foreign policy, Begich is seeking to create a new position of a U.S. Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs and enhance American preparedness for increased maritime trade and shipping. The senator also spoke in favor of ratification of UNCLOS and the Treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which I discussed here a couple of days ago. He noted about the long held-up UNCLOS:
“That flag being planted by the Russians, I think, woke people up that it is time to be part of this treaty so we have an equal footing to ensure that our interests are protected.”
But Begich didn’t just focus on competition in the Arctic: he mentioned the possibility for multilateral cooperation in scientific research, speaking in favor of pursuing “Pan-Arctic research” with Russian and Canadian neighbors to “address scientific issues that span international borders.”
The seven bills are available on Senator Begich’s website here. They will now go through the lengthy committee process. The links below will take you to the original text of the bill, provided by the Library of Congress.
- S.1560 : To amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to provide for the sharing of certain outer Continental Shelf revenues from areas in the Alaska Adjacent Zone.
- S.1561 : To ensure safe marine shipping in the Arctic, including navigation aids, oil spill response capability, and search and rescue.
- S.1562 : To provide for a study and report on research on the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
- S.1563 : To create a U.S. Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs.
- S.1564 : To enhance the U.S.’ preparedness for dealing with increased maritime and development activity in the Arctic as a result of climate change.
- S.1565 : To improve Arctic health.
- S.1566 : To create the American Arctic Adaptation Grant Program to prevent or mitigate effects of Arctic climate change.
I’ll be following the status of these seven bills as they make their way through the senatorial committees.
“Begich introduces package of bills related to Arctic,” Anchorage Daily News