By Betty Mills, Fairbanks Daily News
WASHINGTON — Incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged cooperation in implementing a comprehensive new Arctic policy that could have ramifications for oil and gas development and shipping in the region. Clinton gave the assurances to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, at a confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The comments came as the Bush administration released its long-awaited new directive on the Arctic, the first update of the United States’ Arctic policy since 1994. “President-elect Obama and I see that as one of those areas that offers a chance for cooperation,” Clinton told Murkowski. “I think you will have a very receptive audience at the State Department in our administration.”
Clinton, who worked in a Southeast Alaska fish processing plant one summer during college, said she is aware of the rapid melting of sea ice in the Arctic. “When I heard that cruise ships are now going into Point Barrow, I was shocked,” said Clinton, who had been well-briefed on Arctic issues before the hearing. Clinton agreed with Murkowski that Senate ratification of the long-stalled United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is a top priority. The treaty provides a legal framework to govern the Arctic. It has been approved by all major maritime nations except the United States.
The 1982 Law of the Sea treaty has been considered by the Senate for many years but has been blocked by a small group of conservatives who are worried that it would limit U.S. sovereignty. Proponents claim the treaty will increase the maritime mobility of American forces around the world and will secure U.S. sovereign rights over extensive marine areas that contain natural resources.
The U.S. and Canada have an unresolved boundary in the Beaufort Sea. The new Arctic policy was prepared by officials at several federal agencies, including the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security. The directive takes into account several recent developments, including new national policies on homeland security and defense and the effects of climate change and increased human activity in the Arctic. The document states that it is U.S. policy to do the following:
• Meet national security and homeland security needs relevant to the Arctic region.
• Protect the Arctic environment and conserve its biological resources.
• Ensure that natural resource management and economic development in the region are environmentally sustainable.
• Strengthen institutions for cooperation among the eight Arctic nations: the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation and Sweden.
• Involve the Arctic’s indigenous communities in decisions that affect them; and
• Enhance scientific monitoring and research into local, regional and global environmental issues.
Murkowski has been working with administration officials for months to update the Arctic policy. She was gratified that the document was finally released as one of the outgoing administration’s final policy initiatives. “Few areas in the world have experienced such rapid change and the new Arctic policy gives the U.S. an opportunity to be an active participant and leader in this vital region,” Murkowski said.