Arctic issues will be hot topic as Legislature convenes

The Arctic will be a hot topic in the months ahead for state legislators.

Co-chairs of the state Arctic Policy Commission, Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, said Jan. 16 that they have plans to enter the 2014 legislative session “armed with an Arctic legislation package,” according to a commission release.

In addition to the bill Herron introduced last session to establish an Arctic Port Authority and Development, House Bill 165, McGuire is drafting legislation that could serve as a foundation to fund the estimated $100 billion worth of Arctic infrastructure in need of private investment, the release states.

“The Alaskan Arctic is in great need of investment in infrastructure, to improve the lives of those who live there, and for responsible resource development. Our two infrastructure bills are designed to help kick-start that investment,” Herron said in a formal statement.

McGuire’s Arctic funding mechanism would resemble the Sustainable Energy Transmission and Supply, or SETS, fund and give the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority the ability to form partnerships between the state and private investors.

It was McGuire, who is running for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor against Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who first introduced SETS legislation in early 2011. The state energy fund was formed in 2012 and is an integral part of AIDEA’s effort to get North Slope natural gas to the Interior, providing low-interest state loans to multiple project partners.

“The next important step in the evolving Arctic arena is infrastructure development in the region,” McGuire said. “With increased activity in the Arctic, it will be paramount that Alaska is prepared not only to deal with the activity, but also to capitalize on it. In order to do that, Alaska must have the capacity to respond to emergencies, lend logistical expertise, harbor ships, and monitor changing weather and ice conditions. This requires not only a deep draft Arctic port and roads, but also increased telecommunications and energy infrastructure. We need to ensure that our natural resources are developed in a responsible way, but also that tourism can flourish and that local economies can take advantage of the new Arctic.”

On Jan. 30, the Arctic Policy Commission is slated to release its report to the Legislature with advice on what the state should do to prepare for and foster Arctic development. The 26-member commission was formed out of the Alaska Northern Waters Task Force and has been convening stakeholder meetings about Arctic issues to generate its report since March 2013.

The report is expected to highlight management strategies for offshore oil and gas development and mining in the region as well as ways to secure shipping lanes as melting ice continues to open the Northern Sea Route.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials have said their report recommending a plan for deep-water port infrastructure on the Seward Peninsula near Nome should be ready in March.

Last March the Corps of Engineers released a study that preferred several Seward Peninsula locations for a deep-water port to serve as a hub for Arctic maritime operations out of 14 sites along Alaska’s Northern and Western coasts. The report cited existing onshore infrastructure and proximity to deep water as primary reasons for selecting the Seward Peninsula options.

Additionally, Herron and McGuire have plans introduce a resolution to promote the state’s priorities when the U.S. begins its two-year term as chair of the Arctic Council in 2015.

Canada currently heads the eight-nation international policy coalition.

The resolution would also request the State Department to hear Alaska’s voice when the time comes to choose an individual to represent the country in the council’s head seat. State Arctic Policy Commission member Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said at a December Commonwealth North forum that an Alaskan should lead the U.S. Arctic contingent.

Herron shared Giessel’s sentiment and that of Alaska’s congressional delegation in his statement.

“We’ve said it 735,000 times: Alaska is America’s Arctic and as such we must have a large say in Arctic Council Priorities when the United States is chair,” he said.

In the state Legislature, McGuire is expected to introduce a mirror bill to Herron’s HB 165 in the Senate. The House bill is awaiting action in the Labor and Commerce Committee.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

11/15/2016 - 3:35pm