Pacific Northwest Economic Region: Arctic Leaders Forum

March, 2015 – Washington, DC
The Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) held an Arctic Leaders Forum immediately following Sen. Murkowski’s hearing. NSG was one of several private sector organizations that had representatives at the table with federal agency officials, Alaska state legislators, Canadian officials, and the Alaska Congressional Delegation.
Participants included:

  • Matt Morrison, Executive Director, PNWER
  • PNWER President David Ramsay, Minister, Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada
  • John Higginbotham, Senior Distinguished Fellow, Arctic Program, Centre for International Governance Innovation
  • Denis Stevens, Deputy Head of Mission, Canadian Embassy
  • Alaska State Senator Lesil McGuire, Co-Chair Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, former PNWER President
  • Alaska State Representative Bob Herron, Co-Chair of Alaska Arctic Policy Commission
  • Fran Ulmer, Special Advisor on Arctic Science and Policy, U.S. State Department, Chair of U.S. Arctic Research Commission
  • Mayor Charlotte Brower, North Slope Borough
  • Drue Pearce, Board of Directors Chair, Institute of the North
  • S. Senator Lisa Murkowski
  • S. Senator Dan Sullivan
  • S. Representative Don Young

Many of the talking points of the week were reiterated in this forum: Scientific research, collaboration with international actors, sustainable development, working with the Arctic Council to advance economic opportunities of Arctic peoples, environmental stewardship, infrastructure development for icebreakers, search and rescue response, and oil spill response.
Notable highlights:

  • Alaska Arctic Policy
    • Alaska Arctic Commission Final report published on Jan. 30, 2015 provides opportunities and challenges with targeted recommendations at state level, resources needed, actions and partners proposed (found here).
      • McGuire said the implementation plan was written when Alaska had more money from oil tax revenues.
    • Alaska HB 1 / SB 16 are moving toward placing Arctic policy in state statute, which will strengthen the state’s agenda for Arctic science.
  • S. / Canada Relations
    • Murkowski described the trans-boundary issue between Hyder, Alaska and Stuart, BC and the plans to close the border during evening hours.
    • Murkowski discussed tailings discharges from Canadian mines impacting Alaska fisheries and causing cross-economy concerns.
    • Sullivan asked Morrison about the impact of President Obama’s strained relationship with Canada. The person responded that businesses and legislatures have never been stronger, while executive branch relations have been more strained.
  • Canadian perspective on Arctic Council
    • Denis Stevens reported a positive response from Canada about the U.S. proposed direction of chairmanship.
    • Canadian chairmanship was focused on the human element.
    • Canada hopes the U.S. will build on Canada’s efforts in improving the economic conditions of Arctic people, bringing attention to climate change adaptation, mental health and suicide awareness, and engaging with Permanent Participants.
  • S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council
    • Ulmer: “Why Arctic Matters” is a project for USARC to educate others and get more Americans to understand the Arctic and be engaged in its issues.
    • State Department Secretary John Kerry expressed interest in two goals of the U.S. Chairmanship: (1) Strengthen function, effectiveness of Arctic Council. (2) Improve public diplomacy about the Arctic’s relevance.
  • Business development
    • Arctic Economic Council (AEC) – established September 2014
      • AEC was Canada’s flagship circumpolar business forum to connect the private sector to the Arctic Council.
      • It includes 42 business representatives from eight Arctic nations.
      • Indigenous peoples have a vote on AEC, unlike the Arctic Council.
      • Alaska Legislature offered a resolution in support of AEC.
    • Ramsay mentioned several times the idea of connecting the NWT oil pipeline to Alaska’s pipeline.
  • Territorial Sovereignty
    • Ramsay sparked the envy of Alaska legislators and lawmakers by describing NWT’s devolution agreement with Canada’s federal government. The territory moved from managing only 1% of its resources to having 80% control of its land and resources.
    • The 8th annual sovereignty exercise is occurring in Canada this year. Search and rescue scenarios like these could be a good idea for U.S. Coast Guard.
    • Congressman Young said Alaska Native lands shouldn’t be controlled by the federal government. Alaska Natives should just (be able to) develop on their own land.
  • Russia tensions
    • Higginbotham presented concerns about Russia’s interests in the Arctic development. Perhaps, look at the Northwest Passage as an alternative to Northern Sea Route.
    • Congressman Young said Russia President Vladimir Putin is “bringing old Russia back.” Alaska had a better relationship with Russia during the Cold War.
    • Sullivan was concerned about force structure in Alaska. The U.S. Army is drawing down personnel in Alaska, which sends the wrong message to Russia, which is ramping up its forces in the Arctic.
  • National Security
    • Murkowski believes budget caps can be increased for defense spending, and getting icebreaker funding in the U.S. Navy budget is not a farfetched idea.
    • Alaska Northern Waters Task Force final report called for a USCG Arctic base, search and rescue coordination centers along the Arctic coast, port development in the Arctic, and broadband internet expansion.
    • An Arctic deep-water port is needed to manage issues related to greater sea traffic in the area, to improve shipping efficiency, and to facilitate onshore and offshore resource development.
  • Oil/Gas Development
    • Congressman Young stressed the importance of the oil/gas resources above the Arctic Circle and criticized the Obama Administration for locking up those resources.
    • Murkowski discussed permitting process of building pipelines, the safest way to transport oil (referencing multiple train accidents that have caused oil spills).
    • Sullivan discussed exporting oil to Ukraine to reduce its dependence on Russia.
    • Mayor Brower supports on-shore oil/gas over off-shore because of being better able to observe the development, and engage in easier potential spill cleanup.
  • Upcoming Events
    • PNWER meeting in Yellowknife, NWT, Nov. 15-18, 2015.

About The Author

Andrea Wagner