This just in from Senator Mark Begich:
Senator Begich said. “Today I am introducing a package of seven bills to address challenges facing the Arctic, almost all of which have been caused by, or are being exacerbated by, climate change.”
Begich’s seven bills include:
- Arctic Science, Coordination and Integration Act – Numerous scientists and agencies conduct important and needed research into various aspects of the Arctic but concerns remain that these efforts are not well coordinated and leave gaps in our understanding of Arctic issues. This bill calls on the National Research Council to undertake a study toward a comprehensive strategy to coordinate Arctic research and make recommendations to Congress on a long-term Arctic Ocean research plan.
- Arctic Ambassador Act – Russia, Canada, Norway and other Arctic nations are represented at the ambassadorial level before the Arctic Council and U.S. interests would benefit from an enhanced diplomatic presence in Arctic matters. This bill is intended to strengthen U.S. representation before the Arctic Council and other international forums by appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Arctic.
- Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Implementation Act – As the polar icecap recedes, the Arctic region is increasingly accessible to shipping and tourism. This bill is designed to ensure safe and reliable maritime transportation in the Arctic and protect its waters. It would boost the nation’s investment in needed infrastructure, including replacement of America’s aging fleet of icebreakers and building new forward operating air bases for the Coast Guard to assert our national interest in the region.
- Arctic Oil Spill Research and Recovery Act – Vast energy reserves are believed to lie beneath Arctic waters and it is vital that any development of such resources be conducted in a responsible manner that protects the environment upon which residents of the region depend. This bill directs the Secretary of Commerce to conduct research to improve oil spill prevention, response and recovery in Arctic conditions and requires the Coast Guard to assess and reduce risk from such development.
- Arctic OCS Revenue Sharing Act – Alaska Natives who have subsisted on marine mammals and other arctic resources for thousands of years would bear the direct risks of increased commercial activity in their waters. This bill directs a portion of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas development – the same share Louisiana receives from drilling in the adjacent Gulf of Mexico – to the State of Alaska with a percentage of those funds directed to those most affected.
- Arctic Health Research Act – People of the Arctic suffer from increased rates of alcohol abuse, diabetes, high blood pressure, and death from injury and suicide. This act would initiate a study into the mental, behavioral and physical health problems in the Arctic, institute an Arctic health assessment program at the Centers for Disease Control and create an “Arctic desk” at the National Institute of Health that was called for in 1984 but has never been established.
- Arctic Climate Change Adaptation Act – Alaska villages and public infrastructure are already suffering from coastal erosion, flooding, permafrost melting and other impacts of climate change. This bill would help the State of Alaska, Alaska Native organizations, affected Arctic communities and the private sector adapt to the impacts of climate change and assist in dealing with habitat restoration, clean energy development and other economic development activities.
As part of his package, Begich also called for the ratification of two international treaties that would dramatically improve America’s ability to address Arctic climate change. They include the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would give the U.S. a seat at the table with other nations when decisions are made about international claims to the arctic’s continental shelf. The second is the treaty to regulate Persistent Organic Pollutants. These pollutants, such as PCBs, dioxin and DDT, are carried by wind and sea currents to the Arctic where they are trapped by the ice and accumulate in the fatty tissues of fish and marine mammals.
Begich said he is considering introducing an additional piece of legislation focused on providing the people of Alaska’s Arctic with more of a voice in the decisions affecting their lives. The bill would establish an Arctic Regional and Citizens Advisory Council, modeled after similar councils which successfully operate in the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet regions of Alaska. At the request of the North Slope Borough mayor, Begich said he held off introducing the bill pending further discussions with the people of Alaska’s North Slope, as well and industry and regulatory stakeholders.
Begich closed his presentation saying while great knowledge has been gained over the past century about the Arctic, there is still much not understood. His Inuvikput package is designed to improve that understanding.
“We must make the needed investments to ensure the United States maintains its leadership role at the top of our globe,” the senator said. “And we must listen to and address the needs of the residents of the Arctic.”