Arctic Caucus Working Group Session Day 1 of PNWER Summit

Attended widely by Alaska and Canadian legislators, state and provincial leaders, federal officials, consultants, energy and environmental nonprofit organizations, and Scandinavian investors, the Arctic Caucus held a roundtable meeting that featured updates on recent caucus meetings, Northern transportation system corridors, the upcoming 2015 PNWER meeting in Yellowknife, and caucus sustainability.


In their opening remarks, co-chairs Alaska State Sen. Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage) and Alaska State Rep. Bob Herron (D-Bethel) commented on how the caucus began with the goal of getting ahead of the federal government on strategic planning for the opening of the Arctic.


Updates from Members




Sen. McGuire described caucus activities since the last caucus meeting in March (covered in the 1st Edition of the Arctic Report). Rep. Herron summarized the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission’s implementation plan, which includes holding meetings in PNWER member capitals. The first was in Juneau last fall when PNWER met with the Alaska State Legislature’s Arctic legislative committees, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott.


Rep. Herron referred to a January 2015 meeting regarding Arctic shipping in which the participants discussed moving resources through new corridors and taking advantage of their strategic locations. Five types of corridors were discussed: primary, secondary, commercial, routes for current resource development, and routes for projected resource development. Rep. Herron said a forthcoming Alaska Marine Exchange and Transport Canada report will provide 3-5 pages on each priority corridor in Alaska, the Yukon Territory, and Northwest Territories.


Alaska State Sen. Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel) noted Gov. Bill Walker campaigned on developing Alaska’s natural gas, and former Gov. Sean Parnell also favored natural gas development. Sen. Hoffman said Gov. Walker’s career goal of developing Alaska’s natural gas was a key factor in his election. Sen. Hoffman said the Alaska Legislature is “in tune” with the governor with some “small jurisdictional issues” with House members, but all sides want Alaska gas developed.


So that all Alaskans could benefit from resource development, Sen. Hoffman said Alaska passed a provision two years ago requiring 20 percent of royalties to be spent on infrastructure. He said many people believe the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System should also have this provision, and that many villages and communities are still spending too much on their energy costs, with diesel fuel now costing $9 per gallon. “Monetizing natural gas is our number one priority,” Sen. Hoffman said.


Craig Fleener, Gov. Walker’s Arctic Advisor, reviewed the U.S. agenda for the Arctic Council Chairmanship. He noted the U.S. agenda does not mirror Alaska’s agenda and contains many serious gaps. Alaska and the federal government have two separate, parallel Arctic agendas, with Alaska’s emphasizing infrastructure and economic development.


Fleener is concerned the U.S. federal government looks at the Arctic as a global, international entity with too much focus on climate change and reducing emissions, and not enough on domestic issues such as energy costs and suicide rates. Fleener said Alaska can’t have healthy homes and communities without affordable energy to help generate new business.


Fleener said the State of Alaska is working with the Arctic Host Committee in anticipation of Arctic Council meetings, and welcomes the great potential for establishing effective partnerships with member nations. Arctic Council meetings should enable Alaskans to work with international partners, and so the state is working with the U.S. Department of State on opportunities for Alaskans to interact with international visitors and participate in state-hosted events.


Nirav Desai of Booz Allen Hamilton in Seattle asked Fleener to elaborate on Alaska’s parallel Arctic agenda in the defense context.


Fleener said the U.S. is not doing enough to respond to Russia’s bolstered military presence in the Arctic, which includes 10 new or reopened bases, early warning radar systems, and more fighter jets in the Russian Far East. Even though the U.S. Department of Defense claims to be aware of Alaska’s strategic location as it relates to the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific, the Army recently announced that Alaska will lose 2,600 soldiers who are specially trained in Arctic operations. Fleener said Alaska needs a U.S. Navy presence given its diverse role on air, land and sea operations. Alaska also needs the offensive-defensive force projection capability to help foster a strong relationship with Russia.


Jeff Douglass of Booz Allen Hamilton in Seattle agreed, noting Iceland is getting more nervous about circling Russian jets. He said the federal government and Lower 48 always seem to believe they know what is best for Alaska while Alaskans have entirely different ideas based on their own experiences. He noted concerns that the navigational computer system for the waters off Alaska is so sub-par that unless a proper system is installed, aboriginal fishing grounds and whale migration areas are placed at risk. The federal government, meanwhile, continues to focus on climate change when it looks at the Arctic.


Sen. McGuire said she and others found that White House Arctic policy leaders were putting together the nation’s strategic plan without actually consulting Alaska. She said efforts over the past two years would be wasted if Alaska and the federal government cannot coordinate on the Arctic Council agenda. Plenty of opportunities also exist to work with other Arctic nations on common domestic issues such as water treatment, substance abuse, and high suicide rates. She emphasized that a plan to coordinate with the federal agenda should be something “they can buy into,” and it is gaining some traction.


Northwest Territories (NWT)


Minister David Ramsay, Member of the NWT Legislature and PNWER’s outgoing president, recapped NWT’s efforts since March in its devolution from the Canadian federal government (discussed in the 1st Edition of the Arctic Report). NWT moved from one percent local management of land to 80 percent over the course of three years via devolution agreements.


Ramsay said NWT shares 25 percent of its revenue with aboriginal governments, more than any other jurisdiction in Canada. Devolution is still a work in progress as many questions remain about controls and regulations. NWT also has not yet received its resource revenue sharing funds.

Ramsay reiterated NWT’s interest in moving Alberta tar sands oil into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). He also mentioned a pending University of Calgary report about Arctic transportation infrastructure partnerships.


Ramsay later said that many Canadians who have never been to the Arctic also have many opinions about how rural Canadians should manage their land, resources and environment. Many Canadians just want the Arctic region to be one big national park, much like Alaska’s situation. High unemployment is another serious issue that NWT shares with rural Alaska.


Sen. McGuire asked if a separate foreign ministry looks at national security in NWT. Ramsay said Joint Task Force North provides national defense for Northern Canada. McGuire suggested that in future Arctic Caucus discussions, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) could provide a model for sharing U.S. and Canadian defense resources.


Later in the session, Daniel Lang, Canadian Senator for the Yukon, added the U.S. and Canada are fortunate to share defenses via NORAD. Canada’s National Security and Defense Committee produced a report recently on ballistic missile defense threats to Canada and the U.S.


Regarding sovereignty in the Arctic, Lang agreed with Fleener that if the residents are not prosperous, “we have not done our job.”


Lang said the Obama Administration should ensure that all people can benefit from economic development and can prosper, and that includes promoting domestic wellness. The Canadian federal government is doing what it can to ensure the three northern territories are part of the discussion. However, in general, the northern territories should always ask questions about the people trying to govern northern resources. Besides already having a large stake in the environment, territory residents must live with the consequences.


Yukon Territory (YT)


Stacey Hassard, Member of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, said the Yukon is trying to expand telecommunications connectivity and will partner with NorthwesTel, a NWT-based company. Another potential line that will go through Skagway/Juneau. The Yukon also wants to expand its mine licensing. Ranked number one for the world’s best mining potential, the territory still needs to work on its licensing process, he said.


Wade Istchenko, Member of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, noted the Yukon is similar to Alaska with many stranded resources. YT want to use its infrastructure funds to work with NextGen to expand hydropower capabilities, and work with First Nations development corporations on Yukon development opportunities and investment. Funding for maintaining the Alaska Highway under the 1976 Shakwak Agreement is falling, and YT officials are working with Sen. Lisa Murkowski to ensure that appropriations continue.


Update on PNWER Action Items


Following up on a January action item, Steve Meyers, PNWER’s Senior Program Manager, reported the Canadian government is working on a report about how the three Arctic Caucus members can share best practices for identifying and developing transportation corridors. The Alaska point of contact on this issue is Rep. Herron’s office and the Alaska Department of Transportation.


Myers also reported that Washington State and Alaska recently produced a “Ties that Bond” report on how the two states work together. He suggested that PNWER could develop a similar report that shows how the Arctic affects all PNWER members.


Upcoming Arctic Events                                     


The Arctic Caucus provided a list of upcoming events on Arctic policy, many still in the early planning stages, through spring of 2017 (available from NSG by request).


On August 23-25, Anchorage will host the Alaskan Arctic Summit on Shipping and Ports conference (register here). The agenda will cover maritime domain management and shipping.


PNWER’s winter meeting is in Yellowknife on November 15-19 and will feature combined legislative and economic leadership forums. The following week is the NWT election, so many members will be engaged in campaign activities.


The one-day GLACIER Conference will be in Anchorage, attended by the foreign ministers from all of the Arctic countries. President Barack Obama is rumored to make an appearance.


More details will be forthcoming about a meeting in Winnipeg that involves a territorial approach to the recognition of carbon as a northern necessity.


PNWER Action Items


The caucus concluded with the adoption of potential action items and future topics of discussion:

  • Bring investors together with state governments and banks for private sector development of infrastructure and national security.
  • Update on NORAD activities.
  • Shakwak Agreement and funding update.
  • Study on how the Arctic affects other PNWER states.
  • Bring together Canadian government leaders to a central location to discuss infrastructure and market access.
  • Connect Alaska to Washington State to help improve infrastructure security, access to transportation corridors, and job creation.
  • Work with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy to collaborate on its initiative for north and west transportation corridors.


To conclude the session, Rep. Herron accepted a nomination as the new chair of PNWER’s Arctic Caucus. PNWER later approved the nomination.