Federal Arctic working group calls for review of agencies’ activities

An Alaska interagency working group called for a review yearend of more than 20 federal agencies, departments, and executive offices at work in the Arctic as it issued a report to US President Barack Obama on Apr. 4. It did not recommend any new regulations or policies.

The report recommended adoption of an integrated management strategy with a coordinated approach using the best available science to integrate cultural, environmental, and economic factors in decision-making about development and conservation.

“This report chronicles how Arctic residents are dealing with rapid, climate change-induced impacts on their resources and traditional ways of life at the same time that new economic activity and opportunities are emerging—notably oil and gas, marine transportation, tourism, and mining,” said Deputy US Interior Secretary David J. Hayes, who chairs the Alaska Interagency Working Group which commissioned the report.

The report, “Managing for the Future in a Rapidly Changing Arctic,” also recommended continuing high-level attention on the Arctic, strengthening state and tribal partnerships, encouraging more stakeholder engagement, undertaking more organized and inclusive scenario planning, and coordinating and potentially consolidating environmental reviews that are now being prepared by multiple agencies.

Better coordination

Obama formally established the group on July 12, 2011, to coordinate various federal entities’ activities affecting energy development in Alaska and eliminate duplications and redundancies. The committee is seeking the review of agencies’ activities in Alaska with that goal in mind.

Congress entrusted the federal government with primary jurisdiction over nearly three quarters of the US Arctic's land mass, the US Department of the Interior noted as it released the interagency working group’s report. The federal government also has a special relationship with Alaska natives, including Alaskan tribes and native corporations, DOI noted.

The report also included the launch of a new government web site, the Arctic Science Portal, by the Arctic Research Commission, which is chaired by former Alaskan Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer. DOI said the web portal will provide decision-makers and other interested parties with easier access to scientific information about the Arctic. It includes information on topics such as sea ice, fisheries, and oil spill research.

“Based on input from a wide range of stakeholders, this report shows how applying integrated Arctic management principles can help us make well-informed decisions in the Arctic,” Hayes said. “The key is taking a holistic approach and putting a premium on interagency coordination, the traditional knowledge of native communities, and having a fuller understanding of landscape-level sensitivities and impacts.”

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) said the report highlighted the need for a better state-federal relationship. “Alaska agrees and expects to have a central role in developing next steps,” he said on Apr. 4. “We also appreciate federal attention to the need for additional infrastructure, local economic opportunities, science, and emergency response capabilities in the Arctic and urge more federal investment in each of these areas.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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