Legislature Working to Develop Arctic Policy Commission

The state legislature is making progress toward establishing an Arctic policy commission.

At a hearing of the House Finance Committee on Wednesday, Rep. Reggie Joule explained that even though Alaska is the country’s only Arctic state, it’s often left out of conversations about federal policy concerning the region. He thinks that having a body responsible for developing an Arctic strategy would give the state more credibility with regulators in Washington.

“When we went and addressed the State Department, the Department of the Interior, it is amazing what people do not know about our state that should be basic,” said Joule. “And they get to make budget decisions. And I think it’s imperative that the legislature stay involved in this process.”

The idea for the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission came out of the Northern Waters Task Force, a state body that had a similar mission but was only meant to exist for two years. If established, the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission would pick up where the task force left off. It would also be expanded to include representatives from industry, academia, conservation groups, and the state’s tribes.

Unalaska City Manager Chris Hladick served on the Northern Waters Task Force and testified at the hearing. He stated that setting up a commission now is important, since the pace of Arctic development is picking up.

“I believe that all of us are going to be affected — every Alaskan, sooner or later — by what’s coming in the future,” said Hladick. “And obviously drilling in the Arctic if it happens this summer is going to be a big impact, shipping over the Pole, conflicts with shipping with commercial fishing grounds, etc.”

The commission would have 17 members, and it would be funded at $600,000 over the next three years. It would be required to file a report on the state of Arctic policy in 2015, at which point the legislature would decide to keep the commission in place.

The bill establishing the policy group was move out of committee, and vote on the floor has not yet been scheduled.

This week, the state Senate also advanced a resolution calling for the international Arctic Council Task Force to agree on stricter standards for marine shipping. That task force, which represents eight nations, will discuss oil spill preparedness at a meeting next week in Girdwood.

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