State Panel Debates Arctic Policy In Unalaska

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission has a big mandate – to figure out what kind of Arctic policy the state should have. They inched toward that goal during a meeting in Unalaska last week.

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By February, the commission is supposed to come up with a set of recommendations for the Alaska legislature, which should help them write an Arctic policy for the state.

The group of legislators, conservationists, and small-town mayors on the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, or AAPC, made progress on those recommendations in Unalaska.

But the commission also spent a fair amount of time talking about another set of policy goals and priorities –- the federal government’s.

Bob Herron is Unalaska’s state representative and the co-chair of the AAPC:

Herron: “We just want a reassurance that there will be coordination.”
Just like Alaska, the federal government’s Arctic policy doesn’t exist yet, either. Washington’s come out with a broad strategy plan for Arctic development. They’re still trying to figure out how to implement it.

Herron and other AAPC members spent about an afternoon grilling Brendan Kelly, a White House polar policy representative, on whether than line up with the state’s process.

Herron wanted to know if the federal government could hold off on publishing anything else about Arctic policy until the AAPC has finished up their work for Alaska’s legislature.

Kelly, the White House representative, said that might be possible — but not everything on the AAPC’s wish list is.

Commissioner Stephanie Madsen said she wanted to see some kind of budget for the new infrastructure and research that the federal government is going to need in the Arctic.

Madsen: “What are the funding sources and money that is going to be affiliated?”
Kelly: “So there will be no budget associated with this.”
The strategy was written so it wouldn’t tie up any funding. Kelly said it’s going to be a while before we know the price tag for building up the federal government’s presence in the Arctic.

While the conversation was enough to satisfy some of members of the commission, others were more skeptical.

Cathy Giessel, a state senator, says she’s just not convinced that the AAPC will be able to influence the federal government at this stage.

That’s why Giessel thinks it’s more important to stay focused on the task at hand – giving the Alaska legislature a foundation for writing Arctic policy.

Giessel: “Don’t we need to wait until the legislature has looked at it before we actually take this forward to the feds?”
Kelly, the White House liaison, disagrees. He says he’s taking the state commission’s concerns back to Washington with him. And he says, the meeting did set up the state and federal government to communicate better down the road.

Kelly: “You can’t hold that, point to it, put it on a shelf. But I think it makes a huge difference in how well we’re able to serve people as a government.”
And when it comes down to it, the state and federal governments are going to have to work together to regulate and respond to development in the far north.

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will meet again in Fairbanks this October, during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.