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Alaska Editorial: Lofty Language: President's Arctic policy sets an expansive tone

Posted: May 19, 2013 - 11:00pm

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

President Obama made public his National Strategy for the Arctic Region on Friday. It’s a document that will be of high interest to Alaskans, evidenced by the president’s references to our state in his one-page preface.

“We in the lower forty-eight and Hawaii join Alaska’s residents in recognizing one simple truth that the Arctic is an amazing place.”

“... We will seek to prioritize and effectively integrate the work of Federal departments and agencies with activities that are already under way in the State of Alaska and at the international level. And we will partner with the State of Alaska and Alaska Natives, as well as the international community and the private sector, to develop innovative solutions and new ways of operating.”

The strategy focuses on three general areas: security, stewardship and international cooperation. It also contains four guiding principles, one of which references working with the state of Alaska and another that speaks of consulting with Alaska Natives, “recognizing tribal governments’ unique legal relationship with the United States and providing for meaningful and timely opportunity to inform Federal policy affecting Alaska Native communities.”

The document contains the lofty goal of protecting the environment while developing resources — a sometimes difficult task to achieve in even the mildest of settings and therefore even more challenging to attain in the Arctic.

The policy makes two points of particular note to Alaska: It acknowledges a “dramatic, abrupt, and unrelenting” reduction in sea ice and notes that areas north of the Arctic Circle are estimated to contain about 13 percent of the globe’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas deposits, along with large amounts of minerals.

“These estimates have inspired fresh ideas for commercial initiatives and infrastructure development in the region,” the policy states.

The Obama administration appears to be, at first glance, cognizant of the need to allow some development in the Arctic. How much, however, can’t be discerned from a document as general as the National Strategy for the Arctic Region. It says the United States seeks an Arctic in which “... economic and energy resources are developed in a sustainable manner that also respects the fragile environment and the interests and cultures of indigenous peoples.”

It’s hard to argue with that as a goal.

Introduction of the Arctic policy comes as the United States is set to send representatives to this week’s meeting in Sweden of the Arctic Council. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who attended the council’s 2011 meeting with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will attend that meeting.

Creation of a national Arctic policy is a good first step for the nation, although much remains to be learned about its implementation and durability.

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