MR. BORGERSON: A casual and informal Council meeting. First, let me thank everyone for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend this afternoon on what's a very important issue: the Arctic Alaska, and coordinating the various responses to them.
It's a great honor to have both of Alaska's senators here, as well as, I should say, really leadership from all levels. We have state representatives from Alaska, we have local mayors, Mayor Itta -- I'll give a brief summary of his bio in a second -- as well as other mayors of Alaska towns. And so it's frankly, I think, extraordinary and unique to have this gathering today.
My name is Scott Borgerson. I'm the visiting fellow for ocean governance at the Council on Foreign Relations and will serve as the moderator of today's meeting. First, I'd like to go over a first sort of ground rules before introducing our guests who will each give sort of brief opening remarks before our discussion.
First, I should say that this meeting is part of the Council's program for international institutions and global governance, generously sponsored by the Robina Foundation as noted in the program for today. It's also part of my ocean governance roundtable series, and it's been amazing to work on this Arctic issue for the last few years. I wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs three years ago now, I guess, that I was surprised at the reaction about and lo and behold, it turns out that the sea ice is still melting and melting quite fast. Professor Hiyo Iken (ph) is here from University of Alaska Fairbanks, who before we get started will give us a quick summary of the science, the grounds of our discussion. But I think the timing of this meeting is interesting at various levels.
First, at the international level, other Arctic countries and even non-Arctic countries like China, Germany -- depends on how one defines Arctic -- are taking notice of the changes in the Arctic and there are literally grand geopolitical plates that are shifting as the Arctic changes.
At the federal level, the president is near the end of a presidential task force on ocean policy, if you weren't aware. Its final recommendations I think are coming shortly. Arctic is the center of that. And there's also a -- it's one of the last presidential directives out of the Bush administration, a new White House policy on the Arctic, and it remains to be seen how that will be implemented.
There's activity on the Hill, which the senators will speak to. Juneau has its concerns and of course there's sort of the local level.
So the rules for today are, again, it's a casual meeting, but please make sure all your cell phones are turned off. Unlike some Council meetings, I'd like to be clear this is on-the-record. I think there are some media who are here, so please keep that in mind. When the opening comments are finished and it's time for the discussion, if you'd like to say something, please put your name placard on its end and I'll keep track of order. And we'll probably take several comments and questions together.
And I think before I outline the issues that we'd like the questions to address, the concrete specifics or policy objectives for the meeting, I think I'll let our speakers provide some comments if they'd like to first.
So, first we'll start with you, Senator Murkowski. Thank you very much --
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Thank you.
MR. BORGERSON: -- for coming and we appreciate your time today.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Thank you, Scott. It's a pleasure to be back here before the Council on Foreign Relations. The focus on the Arctic is one that naturally Alaskans get engaged in and excited about, so I'm always pleased when I'm back here in New York to see the level of focus, the level of commitment, on what is going on with the Arctic.
We recognize, those of us in this room, recognize that the United States is an Arctic nation because of my state, because of Alaska. But I think it causes you to kind of step back and say, well then, what does it really mean to be an Arctic nation? And I think that in Washington, we're just waking up to that reality and we're trying to define, perhaps scrambling to define, exactly what that distinction means. And in my view, being an Arctic nation means that the United States has certain obligations, certain responsibilities to the region, whether it be to the land, to the water, and certainly to the people. And we all need to help this nation understand really what those responsibilities are.
I think the pace of what we're seeing in the Arctic, the pace of change, demands that greater attention be focused on the region. The implications of the dynamic, changing Arctic for the residents, certainly, and the importance for U.S. security, economic, environmental, the political interest: it all depends on our focusing and providing that level of attention.
Now, one of the responsibilities I spoke of is to have the necessary infrastructure within the region. I had recently introduced legislation that directs the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to study the feasibility, the location and the resource needs for an Arctic deep-water port. This study is going to determine whether or not it's in the strategic interest of the United States, as I certainly believe it is, to build a port and then more importantly, where that port might be located. It would not only serve our military and our Coast Guard needs, but as we develop off-shore oil and gas reserves and see more shipping, more tourism, more vessel traffic in the Arctic, a deep-water port, I think we all recognize, could provide valuable support. So we want to work with the Navy, work with the Coast Guard and actively consult with those communities and the leaders of the region, as well as the state of Alaska.
We all know that we're seeing more and more of the ice in the region retreating, but I think we all know that that Arctic ice is not going to completely disappear. And one of the major challenges that we face, and Scott has certainly mentioned, is our aging icebreaker fleet. I was able to get an appropriations -- appropriation last year to refurbish the Polar Star; we've got the Polar Star and the Polar Sea. The Coast Guard is now embarked on a study to determine whether or not we need to rebuild or replace these polar class fleets, but no matter what the result of this study is, I think we've got to make sure that we've got the commitment of the administration, the commitment of Congress, that icebreakers are a national priority. You cannot be an Arctic nation and not have sufficient assets when it comes to icebreakers. So we're certainly going to do all we can to advocate that position.
Scott has also mentioned, and we've had in previous discussions before the foreign policy council, the necessity for ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. We must, we must ratify that treaty. But currently in the Congress, I would suggest that we're at a stalemate. The White House is looking to the Senate to lead and the Senate is waiting for the White House to give a stronger signal from the administration.
And, you know, I don't need to tell you, but we're the only Arctic nation that's not a party to the treaty, and failure to ratify continues to keep the Unites States at a disadvantage internationally and outside that process without a seat at the table.
But even though we're not a party to the treaty, we are making progress in the United States on mapping our extended continental shelf. The results of the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy's hydrographic missions in the Arctic I think have been remarkable. I certainly supported the initiative through the appropriations and we'll have to do more to authorize additional funding. But what I think is significant to point out with that mapping was the level of cooperation in the Beaufort between the Healy and the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis St. Laurent. And this is just one example of that international cooperation in the Arctic that is so key and so important.
Mention of the Arctic regional policy that was released in early 2009, I think we recognize that implementation of that Arctic policy is still lagging and it may be necessary for Congress to step in and kind of help move that process along. You've got certain branches of the government, specifically the Navy and the Coast Guard, who are developing and implementing their portions of the policy, which is good, but it's still not nearly to the degree that I would like to see. As was mentioned, you have other Arctic and non-Arctic nations that are moving much more quickly to develop the policies and support than we are.
We are at a critical point in time in the Arctic. Many of us have identified that there's two different paths that we can go down in regards to international relations: one is a path of competition and conflict, and the other one, the other one is a positive one that can take us toward cooperation and diplomacy. And this decision and the direction that it takes is going to require vision and good, strong leadership both at home and abroad. And it's my feeling, and I feel very, very strongly, that as one of the most powerful Arctic nations, the United States has to step up on this and provide that leadership.
I'm going to look forward to the comments from Mayor Itta as the mayor of the indigenous peoples up north that will be so impacted by what we are seeing in the changing Arctic, an Arctic that brings risks and challenges to the environment, the people of the region, but it also brings opportunity, it brings awareness. And if we work to identify and to better minimize the risks and use the opportunities to better the lives of the people of the, those in the region, we all prosper.
So I appreciate the opportunity to be with you and look forward to engaging dialogue this afternoon and thank you, Scott, for your leadership and bringing this all about.
MR. BORGERSON: Thank you. Senator Begich.
SEN. BEGICH: Thank you very much, Scott, and I have to say, you're right, it feels like a senate hearing but I have two things that are different. One, I never get to sit at the head table, and there's wine being served. (Laughter.)
I think we may need to implement that, Senator Murkowski. (Laughter.) It might get things done quicker in the Senate, but I'm coming to these meetings more often.
First, thank you very much, Scott, for organizing this and thank you all for being here and I, as a new member to the Senate, been there now just a little over a year, I have worked on this issue as a former mayor. Senator Murkowski's been working on it for years as a senator and I think there's a unique perspective we both bring, as both -- the first time in the history of Alaska being born and raised, both of us, in Alaska and being the two U.S. senators for the first time being born and raised there, I think we bring a generational and a futuristic look at what needs to be done and have lived through some climate change.
I'll give you a quick story. I wish I had the photo, but it's a story in Alaska -- for those of you who are from Alaska, the Portage glacier, which is about 40 miles south of Anchorage. When I was growing up, there's a photo I have and it's me and my brothers and sisters, and it's literally, I'm standing on the gravel beach -- and that's what beaches are in Alaska, gravel -- and the glacier's literally where that wall is. And that was about 40 years ago.
Today, about three or four years ago, I took my son who at that point was four years old to the same exact location. And I put him there and I was, because I had seen some photo, this old photo, and I thought this doesn't look right so I wanted to see, kind of, now what it looks like. And literally, the glacier has disappeared from sight. And you can argue why exactly, but in my view, what I've seen in my lifetime already is the impacts of climate change and that it is having a dramatic impact. All you have to do, as you look around the state -- it doesn't matter if it's in North Slope, where you're seeing probably as they estimate it, by 20, by 20, in 30 years -- 2040 -- there'll be ice-free summers in regards to the Arctic. Or when you look at some areas along the west coast of Alaska where there used to be ice built up, that acted as a great barrier for the storms that would come are no longer there, and now what the barriers are is the land, and the land is slowly deteriorating because the ocean is, and its waves and its storms are peeling it away.
Or you look in some areas -- it doesn't matter if it's in the northern, western area or down in southeast -- acidification of the waters or the warming of the waters and the change in the fishing patterns, the migration that's occurring, it's having an economic impact now to us.
So for me, it's a very visual thing of what I've seen in the sense of climate change. And what we do in regards to Arctic policy has great impact on this, and I think Senator Murkowski said it best, that the only reason our country is an Arctic nation is because of Alaska. There'd be no other reason. And that brings challenges but great opportunity. As we look at the melting, especially in the Arctic and what's occurring as the increase in shipping capacity, tourism as the senator mentioned, oil and gas exploration, natural resources, maybe fish and others in the area -- it will have, again, a long-term impact on what we do up there and how we understand the climate change and the impacts around there.
During my short time here, we've focused on several, and I'll just mention these, several pieces of legislation. Some are moving, some are in progress in the sense of more development, but, you know, I looked at it from a kind of a variety of perspectives: one, I believe there needs to be better coordination with our Arctic research so we have a piece of legislation focused on that. The health needs of the Arctic are very different and unique and the question is, is climate change having an impact to the health needs and health situations of our Arctic area of Alaska?
Revenue sharing: this is something that I believe is very important with development of whatever occurs in the Arctic. Those revenues should be shared by the communities that are most affected; in this case, the coastal communities as well as the state of Alaska. Both Senator Murkowski and I have a piece of legislation on this that we think is important to share those resources.
Research and oil spill: as we continue to look at the Arctic, it also creates great challenges. As we look at development in the Beaufort and the Chukchi sea, how we do the development there and understand oil spill technology and improving on what we have today is going to be critical for the long-term stability and sustainability of that industry.
Also, I have a piece of legislation that I think we should have a level, when we sit at the Arctic Council, that is an ambassadorship level -- that we have the capacity of someone sitting there with our counterparts that have the capacity to make decisions and make policy that's not just delegated to some department or some other agency, but it's truly a level of diplomatic understanding.
And the last, and Senator Murkowski really laid it out, is the need for infrastructure. Her legislation that talks about getting the Homeland Security and the Defense and Coast Guard and others together to figure out what kind of infrastructure we need up there for the Coast Guard, again, is long-term need. I know the Coast Guard has studied up there for the last two years, have seen huge gaps in their capacity to maintain and manage any minor to major oil spill. But they see that there's opportunity. As I like to describe, imagine if today in New York, the Coast Guard got a phone call in the Gulf of Mexico for an oil spill. That's the same distance it would take for our Coast Guard unit in Kodiak to get to the North Slope borough. That's the distance. And so we have to really think long and hard about this infrastructure development and the investment we're going to make.
I will say that the thing that's probably most frustrating for me -- again, this is as a new member -- is seeing so many different departments, divisions, agencies, groups focused on climate change, but in my personal view after a year and a half, the lack of coordination in how to develop this policy for a long-term benefit for the country, as well as for its people in Alaska.
When I see Task Force Climate Change, which is the Navy is working on. Or the NOAA now has a climate change office coming to Alaska, which we greatly appreciate. Interior Department has an office for climate change. I can go through the list and I'm anxious. Next week, I've asked NOAA to present to me the chart. I just want to see how all these things connect, because my guess is lots connect and not all the time talk to each other on how to move this mega Arctic policy forward.
And as we are debating amongst ourselves about what's the right approach, what's the best course of action in everything from the Law of the Sea to transportation to oil and gas, the rest of the countries that touch the Arctic are already developing their policy aggressively and having a coordinated effort. So we are in some ways behind but we have great capacity, in my belief.
So I think it's a perfect topic for today and I'm anxious to give you my two bits on some ideas I have in regards to how to move our policy forward. It is important from an economic standpoint, from a social standpoint, from just how we are as a nation, how we participate with the rest of the world around Arctic policy.
The last thing I'll say and again echo what Senator Murkowski said. It is important, and Mayor Itta is a leader in the North Slope, and people of the North Slope, and what is important and how and what we do in the Arctic can affect people's real lives every single day: from hunting to fishing to just economic survival. So his words are -- I know Senator Murkowski and I listen carefully all the time when Mayor Itta comes by and tells us what the people of the North are talking about and the impact, but not only in the North but as it moves down through the West and interior. The Arctic may be touching at Barrow, where he represents; it also touches the whole state by the impact of the fishing rights, the hunting rights and many other things that are up on the North.
So, again, thank you for the chance to say a few words and I'll look forward to questions.
MR. BORGERSON: Thank you, Senator. And I'll use this as a segue to introduce Mayor Itta.
He's the mayor of the North Slope borough -- they don't have counties, they have boroughs. A region at the top of Alaska, it covers 15 percent of the entire state. It's the traditional homeland of Inupiat Eskimos. Mayor Itta also serves as the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council's Alaskan delegation, and ICC represents the world's Inuit people on international issues. And so it's with great honor that you join us today, and we appreciate any comments you'd like to offer.
MAYOR ITTA: Thank you very much.
(Speaking in Inupiaq.)
Just say hello to you and greetings from my fellow Inupiaqs up in the north and as stated, Saran (ph) is my Inupiaq name, my given name. I'd also like to take a moment and recognize my fellow mayor that I didn't know was here, Denise Michels, the mayor of Nome and the Bering Straits area. It's great to have you, good to see you.
It's my definitely my pleasure and honor to be here, and I thank both our senators for taking time also to participate in this forum. It is an honor to address this roundtable discussion on the subject of federal Arctic policy, and I'm here today on behalf of Americans who have populated the Arctic coastal region for thousands of years, and yet our life and our culture are strange and foreign and unknown to most people. But we are up there. We are there at ground zero.
As I stated, my Inupiaq name is Saran (ph). I'm a subsistence hunter and whaler; I've been brought up that way. I'm born and raised in Barrow, Alaska: as far north as you can get and still be in the USA. (Laughter.) I'm -- give you a perspective overall from a point of view of somebody who's lived up there for 64 years and seen what is happening -- and again, I have to thank our senators for taking the time to listen to us and address some of the concerns that we are living. And again, I want to give a quick overall perspective on federal policy on -- (inaudible) -- as we call the Arctic Ocean, as the ice recedes and new industries and different uses are contemplated for the Arctic.
I believe good policy is a result of an honest and responsible process and that no Arctic policy can fit that description unless it incorporates aboriginal interest in the region. To put it simply, Inupiaq culture is a part of the coastal and marine environment. That is who we are; you cannot separate any of those distinct -- those categories to who we are. It is my privilege and honor to be the mayor of the North Slope Borough, representing all the Inuit from Canada, close to Nome and beyond, but I must tell you, we can't see Russia -- (laughter) -- and we are the human expression of the Arctic and we rise and fall with the species as they go.
Life has changed dramatically for us since the discovery of oil on-shore at Prudhoe Bay. In 1968, it used to be America got one-fourth of their energy needs from Prudhoe Bay, right next door to my home town. I don't know if that still applies, but certainly a big percentage of the energy does. We have seen the birth and the growth of oil development on the North Slope, and we have participated through our zoning and taxing powers of our regional government, the North Slope Borough.
Oil has created a cash economy that our people never knew before 1970 and would not otherwise have because of our remote location. So we have supported oil production and we also support construction of a gas line to export North Shore gas. I say that because we have now moved irreversibly from a subsistence-based economy to a cash economy. We are dependent. As industry begins to focus more on prospects off-shore -- and this is current -- we're getting nervous, as a people. As people we live there, we recognize that the risks are far greater off-shore than they are on-shore. Impacts of a major spill, you've heard, could be disastrous, catastrophic to the marine mammals and other wildlife that we depend on for our sustenance. But we recognize that if significant reserves of oil and gas lie under our waters and if our federal government supports it, that more than likely, off-shore development is going to happen.
So, our goal as a people is to co-exist, as long as our concerns are woven into the policy framework that governs off-shore industrial activities. My friend, Senator Murkowski -- our friend -- and this, I'll tell you how close we are in Alaska, even though it's so huge and vast. I just told the senator a little while ago downstairs that last visit that my wife and I went to go see my mother, 89 years old. And I told Senator Lisa that I didn't know she had taken center-stage in my mother's hall of fame wall, and that was that picture taken during our blanket toss, our -- (inaudible) -- last summer, that Lisa, Senator, signed and it's a treasure to her.
And that she knows, she said to tell the senator hello, when I was coming down. So bless her heart, we as a people are feeling the stress and strain of all the uncertainty that is happening in the Arctic. People want to study this, study that, look into this, look into that. And people seem to forget that we have lived there for thousands of years and that the stress and strain that is being caused to us as a people is intangible, but it is real and I said, kind of tongue-in-cheek a little earlier, that sometimes a feel we don't have a voice. But I am assured by my -- our senators being present and working with the policy issues that are before us that we are being heard.
I know I have a little bit of time left so I just want to mention about our relationship in the Arctic of the Inuit, better known to a lot of people as Eskimos. They think we're in one location. We have relatives in Greenland, relatives in Canada, relatives in Russia. That -- we have always viewed the Arctic as one region, with a shared ocean and shared marine mammals that migrate vast distances. And that's why the Inuit Circumpolar Council was formed in 1977 to represent our political interests. We did not choose to have boundaries put where they are today. My aunts and uncles in Greenland are still as much a family as they were -- today as they were then.
From the beginning, ICC, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, and by the way, it's on the website iccalaska.org, and has links to various groups -- from the beginning, ICC has recognized the need for a comprehensive Arctic policy. In 1984, it published a set of policy principles which speak to the fundamental indigenous rights and aim to protect the distinct identity of the Inuit people. Since 1984, almost a quarter of a century -- well over a quarter of a century ago, we've been asking our respective national governments to acknowledge those principles ever since. The Arctic Council that I mentioned briefly here is engaged in a comprehensive planning for the region and I urge the federal government to participate fully in this multinational approach, even though their authority is non-binding.
We are, ICC is one of six indigenous permanent participants in the Arctic Council so that there's a clear mechanism for mainstreaming our concerns in this forum. I want to recognize the current efforts of Alaska's congressional delegation to address some of our concerns through legislation. Senator Murkowski and Senator Begich have sponsored bills to regulate marine shipping in the interest of oil-spill prevention, spill response capabilities, navigational safety and other concerns. Senator Begich has also proposed legislation to expand the nation's Arctic research program so we can get a better snapshot of current conditions through baseline science.
Baseline science to us in Barrow as Inupiaq Eskimos is very important to us because we have supported the national research level since the days of the Cold War when the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory used to be in existence. And I'm very grateful and I thank you for these efforts, and I think there's more to be done in terms of analyzing what we call now the cumulative impacts, establishing safe levels of discharge into the air and water, and creating a Coast Guard presence comparable to other coastal regions.
In closing, I believe that America should aim high when it comes to protecting the Arctic in the face of new industrial activity. We should move ahead with the world's best development technology and the most effective safeguards.
And I thank all of you today that are listening and I want to say in closing, this: that, if instead, we choose to barter our way, our safety, for the sake of a tiny increment on industry's bottom line, then we are risking one of the world's most fragile ecosystems and we know from living there how fragile it is. An ecosystem that has given life to us as a people and that as we were taught, as my generation has been taught by our prior elders and leaders, they said what -- it is clear what our role is as leaders. They said, we leave -- I leave you with this: whatever we do, we protect our land and our ocean so that our young ones will have what we have. And I think the last line that is always something that's a guiding principle for me, is to never forget that Inupiaq Eskimos were here before oil and our charge is to be that we will be here after oil.
So with that, I thank you -- (speaking in Inupiaq) -- and I look forward to the rest of this session. Thank you.
MR. BORGERSON: Thank you, Mayor Itta. You'd mentioned science-based decision-making and policy-making, and the next and really the most impossible task of the afternoon is Professor Hiyo Iken (ph has not only traveled all the way from University of Alaska-Fairbanks and I hope he says just a brief word about the role that he's playing there in science and the state as it relates to climate change.
But to inform the rest of the discussion, I thought it'd be very helpful to sort of ground the policy pieces in the sort of scientific reality. So his impossible job is to summarize climate change in the Arctic in a few minutes or less. There should be some slides I think distributed around the room to sort of help sort of guide the discussion. I don't have them, but the senators do. If we could get a couple extra copies up here, that'd be great. But I'll turn it over to you now for the background.
MR. Iken (ph): Thank you, Scott. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. I really don't want to detract from the -- or take away valuable time from the discussion, so what I'll do is, I'll just refer you to these handouts that I prepared in response to Scott's request to summarize the, sort of the current state of knowledge of Arctic climate change and really what I'll do is instead, I'll just give you very few, very brief remarks that might be pertinent to the discussion.
Senator Murkowski already pointed out that as we know, the ice will not go away tomorrow and it's not going to go away in 10 years. I mean, what we know now from model projections is that overall -- and you'll see this actually summarized on page five of the handout -- overall, climate models tell us that there is a very high probability that summer sea ice will be gone by sometime later in this century. And on top of that, if you look at this graph that's shown here, we also find that at least at the present time, current observations of the reduction of sea ice in the summer months are more significant and more extreme than what is predicted by most of the models.
But I also wish to make clear, and this is getting back to some of the remarks by the mayor Itta, that the Arctic ice cover is very much governed by variability, and so in fact, I guess i have to contradict Scott's earlier remark -- I mean right now, the ice is not melting. It is growing, because we're still not at the point of maximum sea ice extent at the seasonal level, which usually in the Bering Sea is reached sometime in the latter half of March.
But some of the predictability is of course a major challenge in making predictions that can form the basis of policy. So in that context, I just want to highlight two further points that may help frame some of the discussions. And if you look at the handout on page 2, what we're seeing now clearly is over the period for which we have good records; that is the second half of the last century up until today. There's a pronounced signal of warming over the Arctic on the order of about five degrees Fahrenheit or two-and-a-half degrees centigrade in some of these areas, and it's becoming increasingly clear that warming's very much linked to reductions in sea ice, which responds through so-called ice-albedo feedbacks to perturbations or disturbances in the climate. That much is clear.
But at the same time, if you look at the slide on page three, you'll notice that while overall the summer extent of sea ice has been declining over the past 30 years or so, for which we have good records, there's also substantial intra-annual variability. And one of the things that we can be reasonably clear about, and that's sort of a closing comment I wish to make, is that as the ice cover is reduced from an overall Arctic perspective, we will find an ice cover that is going to be, to some extent, less predictable from year to year. At the same time, it will respond more quickly to changes in the environmental conditions. One of the things that's been observed is that we've seen an increase in the speed of the ice coverage, (during ?) which it moves over the summer months by about a factor of two over the past two and a half decades, meaning that ice will move faster through the Arctic, which of course may be a challenge.
But the other point that's important to point out is, and that's summarized on page four, is that Alaska has a unique position in the Arctic. And so far, as we're both sitting in the area where we've seen the largest reductions in summer ice extend, so much of what we see now in reductions of ice during the summer months seems to be driven by processes that come in from the Pacific side. But at the same time, we're also in a position where the overall way the ice circulates and is blown around by the winds and by currents, brings the oldest and thickest ice down into Alaska waters from the high Canadian Arctic.
And that pattern likely is not going to change over the coming decades such that, from a predictability and a scenario's perspective, we're sitting in a location where we're both seeing the most substantial changes in the summertime, which of course are the basis for some of these discussions here, but at the same time, where we also have substantial probability of receiving some of the ice that is most challenging from a navigation or maritime operations perspective.
And I'll close with that.
MR. BORGERSON: Thank you. We were kidding before coming --(inaudible) -- that discussion would focus on the public option of health-care reform. (Laughter.) So this is a sort of massive issue, of course, and we were trying to harness it to be disciplined in -- and as a non-Alaskan, it's really a tough job for me to be in, I suppose, but -- around three specific issues that the senators and the mayor -- and I should also acknowledge Alice Rogoff, who's here, who's a driving force behind this meeting, founder and president of Alaska House and has been following this issue a long time as well. So I'd like to sort of give her -- as well as Mead Treadwell, who's here somewhere. He's also an Alaskan and chairman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Also been involved in Arctic policy for many years as well and informed sort of the agenda. I'd like to give him the first opportunity to ask a question or make a comment.
There are sort of three areas in which all questions or comments should please relate. If they don't, I'd ask you to let others speak as this is meant not to be just a series of speeches, but a sort of working afternoon. The first one is icebreakers. While there's less ice, there's still ice, as we just heard. Greater marine access, but icebreakers are important for many reasons: they're operated by the Coast Guard; its funding has changed recently through the National Science Foundation; they're important for science, but they're also important for sovereignty issues, search and rescue, oil-spill response, national defense, national security. Sort of a whole host of things. The Coast Guard has three: the Coast Guard cutter Healy, it is the newest, it was built in 1994. It's a light icebreaker. It's been mostly involved with the sea floor mapping in the Arctic, but it's also -- by ship years, kind of like dog years, won't be around forever.
There are two others; the Polar Sea and the Polar Star. The Polar Star is in what's called caretaker status. It's -- these were commissioned in the mid-70's and they, they're tired, frankly. And it, we can't -- we used to have a very proud ship-building industry in this country. The Jones Act is one I have a lot of feelings about. This isn't about the Jones Act, so I won't go there. I'll just say that it takes, if Congress were to appropriate the money this year, and I don't think that's in the making, it's going to take at least 10 years before an icebreaker is commissioned for the Coast Guard. So, that is an issue and what is the -- so icebreakers and everything about them.
Second: the Law of the Sea, a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. How do we break the logjam on that? And that's not a partisan thing for me to say, flanked by two senators of both parties that support the -- you support the convention?
SEN. BEGICH: Mm-hmm.
MR. BORGERSON: I know Senator Murkowski does.
This is, as I wrote in a Council special report last year, the national interest in the Law of the Sea, this has wide, broad bipartisan support. It's about the only thing that most Republicans, Democrats, industry, environmental groups, CNO of the Navy, the commandant of the Coast Guard, everybody agrees it should go through the Senate and yet we're no closer to it going through the Senate now, I think -- maybe we'll hear otherwise -- than we were at the end of the Bush administration. So it's the second.
Icebreakers, Law of the Sea, and the the third one, which is really broader umbrella, and we heard it I think from the, all the opening sort of comments, was how can we best coordinate all of the activity that's happening at various levels which maybe is not being coordinated as well as it might? The White House has an Arctic policy, I understand for the first time, it's going to -- there's going to be a meeting in over a year to discuss how it might be implemented. There's Ocean Policy Task Force in the executive branch, and in the Coast Guard, NOAA, other agencies. Then there's what's happening on the Hill: we heard a little bit about legislation there.
Then there's what's happening in the state, but then also at the local level, in the North Slope and other areas. And not just coordinating amongst the United States, but internationally through vehicles like the Arctic Council, bringing in Inuit, an indigenous voice as we heard, which is critical in this process. And it's not clear to me that the pieces have put together and that is happening in an orchestrated, coordinated way. So we'd loved to hear from the amazing assembly of bright people in the room, ideas that we can all take back with us to sort of help push that, those policy balls up the hill.
So please, if you have a question or comment, let them be related to those three areas, and I'd like to first turn to Alice and then Mead. If you have, like to make sort of comments to those and then, otherwise please put your name placard on the end and I'll keep track. Thank you.
ALICE ROGOFF: I'll be very brief. First of all, I just want to make sure all of you know that we're having a follow-on discussion starting at 5:30 downtown at Alaska House, New York. Our plan is to have a fully Alaska-specific discussion of these issues having to do with internal politics, business, development, economic development, infrastructure planning and so forth. Urge any of you to come if you weren't already planning to.
Secondly, I want to make one observation that I feel I can make as the newest Alaskan in the room -- I suspect I am -- and also somebody who therefore has a different perspective on Alaska within the federal system of ours. It seems to me that as a new state, Alaska has its full share of its federal powers; witness our wonderful senators who are here today. And you all, I am sure have heard about federal funding that has helped to fund the development of the oil and gas industry in Alaska.
There's another aspect of becoming a state in the federal system that is lacking and that is one of the thoughts I'd love to leave you all here with. And that is the knowledge relationship, the partnerships. This is an issue that will affect Alaskans first and foremost in the United States. And there are countless groups that are at work in Washington, D.C. and in New York and probably now in the Defense Department talking about what will be planned and when it will be done, and Alaskans are not in the room. And I think it would be enormously helpful if you all would just put on your fairness hats whenever the subject comes up, and try to make sure that an Alaskan voice, be it Edward Itta's voice or a voice from a staff person in Washington, D.C., make sure that Alaska is in the discussion. 1959 to the year 2010 apparently hasn't been long enough for that to become a matter of course.
The last thing I would say is there is going to be a huge amount of development done to make the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean and the Beaufort Sea places that are welcoming and supportive for commercial shipping. Thanks to Scott, I now use the phrase that the Bering Strait will be the new Panama Canal in our lifetimes. Well, that means that there's huge money to be made there. And when there's money to be made, there should be investment types and industrial types and planning types and all the kinds of wonderful professional people that you all know should be looking at this and planning how to become involved, and if anybody in Alaska can facilitate it for you, speak up. Contact any of us who are here today and let us begin to attract the business climate to the Bering Sea.
I'll stop right there and let Mead say a word.
MEAD TREADWELL: Thanks. Thank you, Alice, for helping to get this going and Scott, thank you very much. If I have to play jeopardy here and put this in the form of a question, I'll try, but -- the, you mentioned icebreakers and I think I just want to make the point that in the Arctic, we need not just rules, we need investment. We need icebreaker investment. We need investment in the kind of monitoring that backs up the science that Hiyo (ph) is talking about. We need investment in health research. We need investment in a large number of other things there as this area changes very, very quickly.
When it comes to the Law of the Sea, a CFR issue -- one that the Council has looked at quite a bit -- I wanted to highlight an impediment to science, which is coming up with Law of the Sea, and that has to do with access in the Arctic Ocean. If this were the Arctic Ocean here, 13 of, or 42 percent of the time that the United States has asked for access for science in Russian waters, we've been turned down in the last few years. And we have an access agreement in Antarctica; we don't have one in the Arctic.
And I just want to say that if you sustain Arctic science, you not only sustain the Arctic, you help sustain the world. We have a moratorium on fishing, but that moratorium came with an agreement to do the baseline science that Mayor Itta talked about. We have an agreement to set national goals on climate. Well, if we're not monitoring what's happening in the Arctic and what's happening with the methane coming up and what's happening with ocean acidification, we're not going to do that. We have moorings near the North Pole now that Russia could throw out under Law of the Sea. So we definitely need to address the science access issue in the Arctic Ocean as we address Law of the Sea.
So, when it comes to icebreakers, I just would broaden the sense of the kind of investment that needs to be done. And when it comes to access or when it comes to the Law of the Sea, I would also just urge us to address the access issues, and I don't know if that's come up. It might be something to help rock off a stalemate here. But there are a number of CFR issues here in terms of climate, in terms of energy security, in terms of other security, in terms of the continuing movement of de-colonialization and self-determination in the Arctic that I think it's useful for CFR to watch over time.
MR. BORGERSON: Mead, a follow-up question to the Antarctic scientific access agreement: is that part of the Antarctica Treaty or is it separate from the --
MR. TREADWELL: The Antarctica Treaty signatories kind of control science on the continent. So if you have legitimate science going on, there's access to all parts of the continent. In the Arctic Ocean, it will be under the sovereignty of many different nations and already, we are having difficulties getting clear access for science. And if you lose that science, you lose a lot of the understanding of what's going on. Fish don't respect national borders.
MR. BORGERSON: I ask because it's a great question and I'm trying to dive a little deeper on it. How, is the Arctic Council the right vehicle by which to achieve that?
MR. TREADWELL: Well, we got this language in the Arctic policy. The Arctic Council is right now developing, in fact Professor Iken (sp) is very much a part of the, developing a, an Arctic observing network, both in the United States and among the Arctic nations and that may well be a vehicle. The United States is working on a binding agreement in the Arctic on search and rescue, and perhaps our next binding agreement might well be on access. Canada is hosting the five Arctic coastal states in Canada next month and addressing the access issue may be an important thing. I say that that Arctic five meeting is kind of the result of your article, Scott, in Foreign Relations. If you --
(Cross talk.) (Laughter.)
MR. BORGERSON: I'm sorry.
MR. TREADWELL: Years ago that said we might go to war; now we're I think in our third Arctic coastal meeting to say this is a zone of peace, so let's make it a zone of peace on access.
MR. BORGERSON: So, is that a, just a last follow-up, is that a -- well first, I'm glad my article spared action. Is that a Hill issue or an executive branch to -- does the State Department own and do we presumably allow others in our waters? Sort of, what, how do we get here to there? What's the --
MR. TREADWELL: I think we all have to ask the question, and I think ultimately the United States and Russia and the Arctic coastal states need to agree that this is an area that will offer reciprocity in science and make it clear that it will happen.
MR. BORGERSON: And right now are we doing it for others?
MR. TREADWELL: We do.
MR. BORGERSON: But it sounds State Department to me.
MR. TREADWELL: State Department.
MR. BORGERSON: Yes.
MR. TREADWELL: Yes.
MR. BORGERSON: You had your placard up so --
STEVE HELLMAN: Sorry, Steve Hellman. Just wanted to -- slightly off-topic, not on, not as far as healthcare, but -- (laughter) -- in terms of -- to segue a little bit off your comments, what is actually -- you know, in the process -- something of a land-grab going on in the Arctic at the moment with Russia and to some extent the United States, so how is that, how do you see that process developing and what will govern that process to allow for sort of a peaceful transition into managing the Arctic as technology advances to be able to do so, and of course as the ice retreats in order to be able to give us more access?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: This is why the Law of the Sea is so absolutely critical, to help, I guess, provide a little more definition. This can either be a land-grab for resources or, as I said in my comments, it can be something that can be a more cooperative approach using diplomacy. But, with Law of the Sea right now, as the only Arctic nation that's not a signatory to that treaty, we can't -- we can't establish, we've got the mapping that will establish that we've got a potential claim to an area the size of California north of Alaska, but until we are a partner on that treaty, we can't even make that claim.
And so as Canada is making their claim for expanded area, as Russia is making their claim, and initially, when they first made their claim, it was for -- I'm exaggerating -- but it was, it was, it was almost all of the Arctic essentially. That was rejected; now they've gone back again, but you have other nations that are stepping forward and saying this is, this is where we are establishing the boundaries, and we have been able to define that through the mapping and -- and yet until we become a participant and we ratify that treaty, we can not establish our claim to, to those undersea areas.
MR. HELLMAN: Not to be completely ignorant, but why aren't we ratifying the treaty?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Politics.
MR. HELLMAN I know the process, but it is it --
SEN. MURKOWSKI: (Laughs.) Well it is an issue that has been before the Senate now -- somebody give me some history. How many years it been --
MR. TREADWELL: Early '80s.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Early '80s. And it has, it has been an issue that has been opposed by some on the far right who view this as giving unlimited powers to the U.N., they're not, they're not supportive of that. It has not been a high enough priority until climate change and just an opening up of the area caused more to focus more on the Arctic. Basically, nobody really had any incentive: you didn't have a level of shipping; you didn't have the interest and the potential for resource up there. And so, if there's no eyes upon it, there wasn't the real push.
Now, I think, we are seeing a real push by other nations and unfortunately, our politics is holding us back. As I mentioned, you know, there's many of us in the Senate that are ready to go, but we're still waiting for the White House to give a very strong, positive signal that this is a priority for us and let's move it. I wish that I could tell you that we might see something this year, but I'm not overly optimistic and if --
SEN. BEGICH: If I --
MR. BORGERSON: Yes, sir.
SENATOR BEGICH: I'll give additional on that too, and I have to agree. And again, I come from just a one-and-a-half year or one year, a little over one year in the Senate, but it is some that believe that somehow we will give our sovereignty and our authority to some unknown group and therefore, this country will be beholden to somebody.
Well, the fact is, we are now because we're not at the table. And this is a significant problem: every military element of the federal government agrees that this should be put forward; many private sector folks believe it is; the local community; the delegation of the state that's most affected. It's just, in my view, it's, it'd be a great discussion another day on the politics of the senate, but it is to me, seems so ridiculous when I think, and I may be wrong and Senator Murkowski will have a little more history on this, but in the last two-and-a-half years, two cycles, two election cycles, 30 percent of the United States Senate has changed hands. So this is the right time to do it.
There's probably, this might even be one of those things you get 60 votes on the first go-around. But because the worry is, to be very frank with you, that if you bring it forward, you get one senator, one senator that decides they don't like it, it jams up the system for a week or two weeks and we can't get any work done. That's how I view it, and it's too bad because I think every day that goes by, we lose our sovereignty. We lose our capacity, because other countries recognize our inability to do something so simple. To be very blunt with you, that is how I see it: one person in this system we live in and work in can stop something of so dramatic impact to our country and to our, to adjoining nations.
It just is amazing to me, because when I came, I thought this would be an easy one, to be very frank with you. I thought, geez, this -- you know, I looked at the list of supporters and seemed so easy to move forward on and here we are. I agree with Senator Murkowski. I don't think, you know, I would love to see it this year. I think last year, since Senator Kerry and others were trying to move it forward early part of summer and here we are. And I think that the scare part is if you put it on the agenda, you can pretty much jam up two-and-a-half weeks, is my bet of time on the senate calendar, that becomes a high commodity.
MR. BORGERSON: So do you think -- I mean, this is an unfair question, but the votes are there, you think?
SEN. BEGICH: I think --
SEN. MURKOWSKI: I think the votes are there if we could get, if we could get past the hold.
SEN. BEGICH: Yes, I agree. If we can get past the hold on it, I think the votes are there. And I think it would be a pretty good vote, a very solid vote. It wouldn't be just 60 plus one. I mean, just the people I talk to, because people see it from different perspectives. Some see it from the economic perspective. Some see it from the military perspective, which is a whole other discussion around the Arctic; some see it from the local fishing and oil and gas industry; some see it from just our own sovereignty, the control of our lands and the potential.
And Senator Murkowski is right, the size of additional land mass that could be granted to us under this agreement based on what's underneath the water is huge. So.
MR. BORGERSON: So White House leadership, is the answer to the --
SEN. BEGICH: I think it's a White House and both Democrat and Republican leadership. You know, I've seen the list of the ones the White House wants to do on treaties. This is on there, but like Senator Murkowski said, it's not high because there's trade agreements and there's these other things that, again, consume time of the agenda. But I bet you if Senator Reid, Senator McConnell and the White House said let's just do this, the odds are that it could get done. We'd have to be subjected to a little pain of a hold for a period of time, but I think, that's how I view it. I mean I -- maybe I'm too naive about this and optimistic, but that's how I look at these things.
MR. BORGERSON: In the interest of time, I want to take a series of comments or questions, if we could, and if you'd please keep them brief. We'll go Carl, and then Steve Blank, and then Laurie Garrett please. Carl?
CARL GATTO: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Just from the point of view of the Alaska state House and Senate, when Russian submarines sailed under the ice and I think they dropped a flag or something like that, it was very clear to us the significance of that, and the Alaska House and Senate voted to approve a resolution to go to our members of the Senate and as well as our lone member of the House to get on the Law of the Sea treaty. That was so important to us because what we saw was, we're not a member and by not being a member, we had no authority at the table. It's like we were standing on the street corner waving a sign yelling while this group was meeting. So you have the support of the state certainly and it's, I just want to encourage you to recognize that it's important to the people the live there.
MR. BORGERSON: Can you mention your affiliation, please, just so that we all know?
MR. GATTO: I am a representative in the Alaska State House.
MR. BORGERSON: And your district?
MR. GATTO: Palmer. Number 13.
MR. BORGERSON: All right. (Laughter.)
MR. : And that resolution was supported -- I think unanimous or pretty darn close.
MR. GATTO: I think so , but --
MR. : Yes. It was bipartisan.
MR. GATTO: I can't recall, but it was --
MR. BORGERSON: If you could, when you introduce yourself, please just, where you're coming from . Steve?
STEPHEN BLANK: Yes, Stephen Blank, the North American Transportation Competitiveness Research Council. It seems obvious, at least to me here, that we should be reaching out to the Canadians to develop a collaborative policy, not only with regard to icebreakers, but the whole of the Arctic area. That would give us, it seems to me, more muscle representing the whole of North America, in many of these discussions. Is that not so and if it is so, obviously, perhaps it's already going on. What is the state of collaboration, cooperation with the Canadians on these key issues?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: I think it goes back to Mead's point on the science and the research. In some areas, I think we are cooperating better. I think we are reaching out to our Canadian counterparts and that's good. Can we be doing more? I think absolutely.
The problem, and Scott has mentioned this, Mark has mentioned this -- there are a lot of different efforts, but who is coordinating? Who is, kind of, who is in charge? I serve as the U.S. representative to the Arctic Parliamentarians, who are gathering in Washington, D.C. in a few weeks, and it will be representatives from all of the Arctic nations, including the EU. And we'll have a roundtable like this and we'll talk about this. The Arctic Council is off having their conversations.
There is a fair amount of discussion about how we provide for better collaboration. But I don't think we have, we've had the signals. And I don't mean to punt it from the legislative to the administrative branch, but quite honestly, real strong indicators from the State Department are going to be very important to direction that we may take. Secretary Clinton is wonderfully engaged on this issue and I have had numerous occasions where the two of us are just, you know, as animated as we can possibly be on this. I, we have yet to see some of that enthusiasm for this issue, and therefore the leadership, kind of, come from the State Department and I think that's one of the areas that we really need to look to for a level of leadership. I will tell you though, there are some, I think, encouraging signs coming out from a few leaders -- Secretary Clinton is certainly one. I had a meeting just last week with secretary of the Interior, Secretary Salazar.
And when I mentioned the Arctic parliamentarians, mentioned this meeting, he too became very engaged because within the Department of Interior, under the Arctic Policy Initiative, they have, they have their own initiatives that are to be carried out through DOI under the auspices of this policy directive.
So how do we get the legislative working with the administration working with all of the various councils out there, not to mention your point specifically to what we can be doing more with Canada? I think it's happening, but I don't think it's very well coordinated.
SEN. BEGICH: And just to add, and I agree with those statements, I think it's one of the complaints, to be very frank with you, I've had to my work in the department -- or the Commerce Committee, on a regular basis. Every department, every agency that comes to me and starts talking about Arctic policy, I say, well who at the end of the day makes the final call, you know, on the broader policy? And each one kind of says well we do our piece and our element. And that's why I've advocated through legislation that we should have ambassadorship level on the Arctic because then you can get this more coordinated, more focused.
Now, I tell you, when I suggest that, the State Department wasn't very excited about it because it meant their area was being touched. You know, when I talked to NOAA and NOAA was concerned about their area is. And this is where you have to get out of this stovepipe, policy-driven decision because what's happening is some of this policy is not melding correctly. And I think if you have someone at an ambassadorship level, working with the Arctic Council, helping bringing these issues to the forefront with a real Arctic strategy that's comprehensive, not only for the United States but how we fit into the global picture, is how you get there.
But, like I said, I'm waiting for NOAA to present. They said they've got a schematic for me. I'm anxious to see it. I don't know what it will look like yet. But I think there is a gap in the administration end about who at the final end day says, here's what we're doing. Other than the president, because there has to be a different level to move the policy forward. And you know, there's different people on climate change; there's people on Arctic and these things actually, you know, they constantly cross over even though some like to divide them, these policies keep crossing over. So that's how I view it, that if you have someone at that level, they can work with these agencies and bring a comprehensive.
The other piece is, unless you have, and I know Mead and I've talked about this a lot on a comprehensive budget strategy, which policy says they're supposed to.
MR. TREADWELL: The law says it--
SEN. BEGICH: The law says they're supposed to. But they don't. And at the end of the day, the budgets drive the policy if you have it done right. You have a strategy and then that money will move to move the strategy forward. But these guys hold on their dollars so tightly that, you know, prying it loose to actually cooperate over boundaries is tough. Not saying that they don't do it, but can they do a lot more? I think the answer is simply yes.
MR. BLANK: Thank you, sir.
MR. BORGERSON: Steve, just as, it's fun observation having been (out on ?) it a few times on this issue: only in America can you have a seven-night discussion about Canada and the Arctic and not mention the Northwest Passage. (Laughter.)
They renamed it officially last week the Canadian Northwest Passage as an act of parliament. It went unnoticed on the front page of the New York Times here. Laurie.
MR. BLANK: Thank you. (Laughter.)
LAURIE GARRETT: I'm Laurie Garrett, I'm from the Council on Foreign Relations, so I want to put a little foreign relations question on the table.
First, thanks to the senators and the mayor for joining us. You honor us with your presence.
So, Carl, I agree with you. My antennae all went "nee" when the Russians planted a flag under the North Pole. And having spent a fair amount of time in Alaska over the years but also in the Russian Siberian Arctic, I know that we have very different ideas about what environmental protection is.
And looking at this document, the ICC document, about 90 percent of this is about protecting the environment and various issues, specific articles and so on related to protecting the ecosphere if you will. But you speak to the Dolgan people outside Norilsk, as I have, and you will hear there's nothing left of this environment. This is what Russians have done to it, to the permafrost and to the resource exploitation. So I think I am missing in this discussion a sense of how high the stakes really are in our relations specifically with Russia and in a more than philosophical difference in what is justifiable to exploit energy resources and mineral resources on our respective waters and areas.
And a final piece of that question to you is, do you imagine that an area the size of the state of California would carry the same kind of resource exploitation provisions for the people of Alaska as the boomer checks do from the pipeline? And if there is some sense that there's a revenue base or flow to the individual peoples of the state of Alaska coming from all this, then how indeed do we balance our sense of appropriate exploitation of that ecology and devastation of that ecology against the checkbook and wallet interests of individual Alaskans?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: I'm looking to the mayor because he deals with this on a daily basis.
MAYOR ITTA: I thank you for your question, and I don't know that it's necessarily a question rather than a commentary, and I'd like to just comment this way: the document that you refer to has been a work in progress for 25 years. For years and years, we as Inuit always had an empty chair for the Inuit of Russia because they were not represented. It was a symbolic -- a symbol that the Russians were not there and what you say is very true. We recognize our relationship through ICC as one people and every four years, we get together in a different country, whether it's Greenland, Canada, us. We haven't had it in Russia yet and I think -- I'm looking forward to more discussions on just that very subject with our senators later on this week. I'm going to be headed for D.C.
I, in my role as president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Alaska, my job has been to push that but it's ineffective without something tangible from the Russians. And that is our very concern up here as a people.
I'd also like to just take a moment to recognize my wife, way in the corner over there, Elsie May Itta Hopson, and who always travels with me to these faraway places. And while I don't have a specific answer for you, we have been concerned, for example, by our own fellow Inuit on the Russian side of nuclear contamination in our waters and we look at it as one sea, and we look to our friends and representatives and senators to be helping us that way.
I think it's interesting, if I may kind of veer off that a little bit on the Law of the Sea issue. Fundamentally based on use and occupancy, and the use and occupancy is me and my ancestors and family for thousands of years, and all we are asking and all we ever asked for is a seat at this table which is why I appreciate this so much -- a voice so that our concerns can be heard. Because there is traditional knowledge that goes for thousands of years that needs to be incorporated into the mainstream science that is going on now.
So, I didn't answer your question specifically, but relative to foreign relations, we do have a unique relationship through Nome, the mayor of Nome, Denise, where Inuit can cross the border without passports. And that's a start. We are allowed that. Same with Canada, but only in the water. So we are making progress and we recognize that that's an issue, but my job now is to keep working with our delegation and keep us at the table and I appreciate that. So maybe with that, Senator, you can take --
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Well, I think the question is one that is at the root of some of the anxiety about the development up north. The uncertainty as to what it may bring and in an area that is uncharted and without boundaries and has the potential for great resource wealth, will there be this land-grab or will it be more orderly and structured and respectful of the rules that are out there. But unfortunately, the rules are not yet clear.
You suggest that, well, perhaps with the added revenues that could come to a state like Alaska, we would look the other way when it comes to care for the environment. And I think that's why my first reaction was to look to the mayor because as people that are living in the region, they have had to -- they have had to balance what it means to live a subsistence lifestyle with development right in your backyard. And there are pros and cons and as he indicated in his comments, you know, they have moved from a subsistence society to a cash-based society because of oil.
There's always going to be that balance between ensuring that we access the resource responsibly and do it in a manner that will allow those who have lived off the land for thousands of years, and will continue to live off that land, that co-existence. And he says it is one region, one ocean, one land. That's where we need to have, whether it's the protocols that will come about through the commerce and the shipping assessment and ensuring that you've got levels of safety. That has to -- that has to play into resource development as well. It cannot be resource development at any cost. I don't think those in Alaska would accept that.
Our reality, though, is you have other countries who have demonstrated in the past that they are willing to look the other way when it comes to the environmental safeguards. This is why discussions just as this are so critical. We've got an opportunity, as Admiral Allen has said, to be kind of the pioneers out there on the front lines in determining whether or not we approach this with a level of diplomacy or whether it really is a land-grab.
SEN. BEGICH: Let me, if I can say this, two seconds. One of the things, as I mentioned in my opening, what's unique about the delegation, at least on the Senate side with Alaska, is we're a generation that was born and raised there. We understand the value of it. We raise our families there. We have our relatives there. As Mayor Itta has said very eloquently, for thousands of years, his family has been there.
And so I think it's a very unique time to understand, as we move into figuring out what the resources are, both people and natural resource for development, how to create that careful balance and I think, I think we bring that. That's a very unique level that just maybe wasn't there in the past, or maybe it was at different levels, but it's a different generation that you see sitting in front of you today that is looking at the third generation and the fourth generation of Alaskans in our families.
And so the balance is important to us. The development is important, but the beauty of Alaska is why we live there. It's why we raise our families there. So we come with a different element than I think maybe the frontier of the past, as some people might think of it, it is different. The generations are living there now, not living there until they're 18 and moving out; they're actually staying and building their homes and future.
MS. GARRETT: If I were to make a suggestion how to push the Law of the Sea vote: take a delegation of members of the Senate to the Siberian permafrost and northern region -- (laughter) -- and let them just see what Russia has done to their land.
SEN. BEGICH: Hmm. Yes.
MR. BORGERSON: Mr. Wetland. Will you give us the last question or comment? We're running out of time.
AMBASSADOR MORTEN WETLAND: Well if you'd allow. I'm the Norwegian Ambassador to the United Nations. And so, we're an Arctic country and we ratified the Law of the Sea Treaty early. Now, we see with the activities increasing in the Arctic, there is nothing we would like to see more than the American ratification of the Law of the Sea. Not least to make it clear to non-Arctic states that these rules apply up there and that they will be permissible activities for other states, but that coastal states in the region has a great responsibility to lay down rules regarding environmental protection and commercial activities. And you will be able to have your claims to the outer edge or limit of the continental shelf dealt with by international body and approved and sort of validate which will be -- take force vis-a-vis all countries.
So there was a mention of, yes, but does that treaty provide us with sufficient access to scientific research in the economic zones of other states? And you're also right; the Russians have applied the treaty in a restrictive way, which in a sense contravenes the system of the treaty itself. We know that fairly well. We are neighboring state of the Soviet -- I'm sorry. (Laughter.)
We have a land border and we have a maritime boundaries stretching toward the North Pole, and have to micromanage the sort of delicate relationship every day, and we are more dependent on these resources than many others around here. Basically, they stick to the rules, except in the area of scientific research, where they are supposed to approve applications but they don't.
We have been able to live with that since we basically find that they do observe the rules and basically they are not yet as advanced in the, for example, off-shore oil activities. That there is any chance that they will be able to undertake activities on the shelf, which you lay claim to or will lay claim to, since their own companies are unable to do that. For example, the largest off-shore gas field in the Barents Sea, which is a semi-enclosed sea, is being explored now, but it is Norwegian companies doing it for the Russians, since we have had to deal with these conditions for a couple of decades, and we're now further advanced than them in sub-sea exploration.
Modern exploration in the Arctic takes place without the super-structure that you know from the Gulf of Mexico. To avoid drifting icebergs hitting them and ruining operations, we go sub-sea. You don't see anything and this is technology which is available and in effect, as we speak, and so far, not a single gallon of oil has hit the shores of Norway since we started drilling oil 40 years ago.
So, solid international framework, backed by more advanced national comprehensive management plans to reconcile the various legitimate uses of the sea as the ice, (wind ?) possibly extends northwards even in 2007, where, well -- made it more accessible than 2009, is the right way to move. And with the force of the U.S., when you can come out there with a solid basis in law, will I think quiet down and make this sort of a sea of peaceful cooperation. That is still open to us, that option. It looks that we are going that way, but it would help a lot, if you would ratify and you become a full-fledged member of that kind of cooperation.
SEN. BEGICH: Agreed.
MR. BORGERSON: What a great point to end on, Ambassador Wetland. Thank you.
I wish we had another hour to keep going, but we do not. And so I'll ask our guests a short, senator-short bumper sticker thought -- (laughter) -- if you could, at the end, to leave us with. Actually, Mayor, do you want to get us started, if you'd make any kind of concluding thought you'd like to leave -- a very brief, sort of succinct one with -- (inaudible) -- here today?
MAYOR ITTA: Anticipating that, I just want to again thank everybody who put this forum together. With a White House policy, Oceans Policy Task Force, Commandant Allen, as mentioned by our senator, the Coast Guard, Homeland Security is up there.
The whales, the proposals to list our polar bears as threatened, the walrus as threatened, the ring seal, the ribbon seal as threatened. The critical habitat area listings being proposed on thousands and thousands of acres. We're so huge up there, we talk square miles. And we're talking thousands of square miles that are being affected not only -- and the huge challenge to us, as a people, in the way of capacity. And yet, we, we do the best that we can -- (coughs) -- excuse me.
Now we just ask for everybody's continued sensitivity to the pressures that are being placed on our people, as good Americans, that we are there and that we be considered in every debate as just -- wait a minute. I use this as an example: the polar bear was going to be listed by all these people, but guess what? Somebody forgot to go up there and ask the people that live with that polar bear, what do you think? What do you know.
And I thank you for that.
MR. BORGERSON: Thank you, mayor. Senator Begich? Briefly?
SEN. BEGICH: Briefly. Thank you very much and thanks for the opportunity to have this discussion. And I have to tell you that this is one of those that can go on for a long time, there's so many pieces connected to it, but it's been a worthwhile discussion. I think one of the things we walk away with, if there's one thing that we can do in regards to legislation besides all the different legislation that Senator Murkowski and I have listed, the Law of the Sea is really an important component to keep things focused in where we need to go, and the coordination of all these activities. I mean, the more we understand how these all interconnect, the better policy we're going to have down the road in the sense of climate change and the issue of Arctic policy.
So again, I want to thank you all and I hope you see, I know Senator Murkowski and I work on a lot of stuff together with Alaska and this is -- and I truly believe this -- I've talked to groups and I said if Senator Murkowski and I focus on the issue like we're doing on the Arctic policy and can do it bipartisanship, there's room for a lot of opportunity, truly, in this world around this kind of policy -- climate change, Arctic policy. Because you're looking at kind of the two moderate ends of both of our parties, but we bring kind of a different generational view to these very complex problems that have been around for a long time.
So I think this was, for me, it was an exciting opportunity to sit here and have this policy discussion in a non-committee format, which is what I --
MR. BORGERSON: With wine.
SEN. BEGICH: With wine to boot. I've got to, I give you double thumbs up on that, so, but thank you very much.
MR. BORGERSON: Thank you, Senator. Senator Murkowski.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Well, thank you, and I'm trying to think of my bumper sticker and it's "America: an Arctic nation." (Laughter.) And, you know, that will cause people to think about it, because they don't think about it enough. And this is why it's so difficult to get the investment and to get the budget that we need, to get the commitment for the collaboration, because we don't think about ourselves as an Arctic nation. So I think it's "America: an Arctic nation."
I'm going to leave one more, one more point. And Alice, you mentioned this. I know your discussion at the Alaska House is "Will the Bering Straits be the next Panama Canal?" And I think that that's a challenging thought, because you think about how the Panama Canal just opened up the world.
Well, we also need to look at that map of Alaska and see what a choke point we have right there. So we don't want the Bering Straits to be the next, you know, Strait of Hormuz, where you are that choke point. Where, whether it's through commerce or your industrial activity coming and going that in order to allow for this, we've got to make sure that infrastructure is in place to provide for a level of servicing, a level of security, and for those that are living there, clearly that level of just comfort.
But, that's my bumper sticker. America -- an Arctic nation.
MR. BORGERSON: Thank you everyone for your time this afternoon. Thank you to the senators for coming. (Applause.)
See you at the Alaska House. Cheers.
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