Congressional Arctic Working Group will help better coordinate and advance U.S. Arctic policy

Aug 5, 2014

WASHINGTON—To help the U.S. better prioritize its interests in the Arctic, Reps. Rick Larsen, WA-02, and Don Young, AK, announced today they are creating the Congressional Arctic Working Group. The bipartisan group will bring together stakeholders from across the native, environmental, oil and gas, mining, national security, and navigation communities to advise Congress about the opportunities and challenges for the U.S. as an Arctic nation. 

As the U.S. prepares to take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015, the country needs a better strategy to coordinate and act on its interests in the region, according to an April report from the Government Accountability Office. The new Arctic Working Group is designed to bring needed attention to Arctic policy and to make sure the U.S. can secure its economic, strategic and environmental interests in the region.

“The icy waters of the Arctic may seem remote, but other countries are rapidly and successfully traversing those waters to conduct research, develop energy resources and carry goods to market,” said Congressman Rick Larsen. “The U.S. can sit by and let other countries run the Arctic show, or we can suit up and act to protect our economic, strategic and environmental interests,” Larsen said. “Ports in the Pacific Northwest will become more frequent stops for ships journeying through the Arctic, increasing economic activity along our waterfronts. Maritime activity in the Arctic requires specialized equipment like icebreakers. Shipbuilders and mechanics in Northwest ports are well positioned to take on the added work, creating more jobs. Just because the Arctic is at a high latitude doesn’t mean the U.S. should ignore it. The Arctic Working Group, which I’m pleased to start with Mr. Young, will bring needed attention to a part of the world we can’t afford to neglect.”

“Our nation must quickly step up to the plate to address the growing needs of the Arctic, including in areas of resource development, shipping, tourism, and Alaska Native priorities,” said Congressman Don Young. “I am proud to lead that charge with my friend Congressman Rick Larsen by forming the Congressional Arctic Working Group, which I believe will expand the conversation on this vital American issue. As an Alaskan, I am quick to remind my colleagues in Congress that we are an Arctic nation and inaction will only hurt our many social and economic interests. As I’ve said before, our nation needs a strong leader in the Arctic with the means necessary to dedicate special attention to the many relationships and priorities in the region. While the announcement of our nations’ first Arctic Representative is a positive step forward for Alaska and the rest of the country, we must show the rest of the world that the United States is ready to take over the Arctic Council Chairmanship by appointing an Ambassador level position to the post.”

The Arctic Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on Arctic policy issues and analysis, welcomed the formation of the working group. “With the United States set to take over the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in Spring 2015, this is great time to get a dialogue started to increase attention on Arctic issues in Congress and raise awareness as to why the Arctic region should rank higher on the agenda,” said Malte Humpert, executive director of the Arctic Institute. “The Arctic Ocean is being transformed from a year-round frozen desert into a seasonally navigable ocean. This transformation brings with it great challenges and opportunities and effective stewardship will be key to ensuring that Alaskan and U.S. interests can be met.”

Larsen and Young have advocated for improved U.S. infrastructure in the Arctic, including a stronger icebreaker fleet and an ambassador for Arctic Affairs, a position other Arctic nations already have in place. Read their op-ed in the Washington Post.