White House Releases Arctic Strategy

The eleven page document frequently mentions the Arctic as a region free of conflict and the country’s desire to keep it that way.

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The plan lays out three arcing “lines of interest” – to advance U.S. security, pursue responsible Arctic stewardship and to strengthen international cooperation.

Luke Coffey, a fellow at the D.C. based Heritage Foundation, called the strategy welcome news, albeit a bit late.

He cautioned the strategy is very forward looking; it lays out guidelines for future oil and gas exploration and shipping lines.

He said only46 vessels traversed the Northern Sea Route last year.

“Compare that to the 20,000 ships that traveled through the Gulf of Aden off the Horn of Africa,” he said Friday afternoon. “So we are still a long before we start seeing the maritime volume that we’re seeing in some of the warmer climates around the world.”

The strategy says the United States needs to accede to the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty; something Coffey disputes. He said the country can operate in the Arctic, alongside other sovereign Arctic nations, without signing on to the international agreement.

The U.S. is the only Arctic nation that has not agreed to the treaty.

While the strategy explicitly says security is the number one priority, much of the text focuses on future energy exploration.

Michael LeVine, a lawyer with Oceana in Juneau,said both this administration and the previous one led by President George W. Bush have prioritized oil exploration over the environment.

And while he welcomed commitments to combat climate change, LeVine said it’s tough to balance those promises with promises to continue oil drilling.

“We hope, that moving forward, this administration will stick to its commitment of getting good science and to be prepared before industrial activities are allowed,” he said.

That’s a dig at Shell, which was allowed to proceed with some of its drilling plans despite not having working spill prevention measures.

The strategy says the federal government will cooperate with the state and consult with tribes – which is already policy.

“If they don’t I’m going to be raising a little bit of noise here,” said former North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta.

Itta, now a member of U.S. Arctic Research Commission, said the new guidelines are a good first start, but it’s just that. There still needs to be concrete plans developed.

“I’m still somewhat skeptical – until the funding is going to accompany whatever priorities or programs are identified,” he said.

Government officials will travel to Alaska this summer to hold listening sessions and to ask for input on the new policies.

One policy may get lots of attention in the state: Without listing any country in particular, the strategy says the United States should work with other non-Arctic countries that show an interest in the region.

No doubt those countries will have an interest in the vast resource supply.