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American Arctic: Alaskans challenge Obama to back bold polar policy

Carey RestinoThe Arctic Sounder

Alaska's senators drew attention last week to the country's lack of a formal strategy on the Arctic, noting that the U.S. is the only Arctic nation without one.

In a letter to the president, Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski called for action, saying it is time to develop policies and visions that will guide federal agencies dealing with Arctic development.

"Developing an American Arctic strategy is especially timely now, with the hope for offshore oil and gas exploration in Alaska's Arctic this summer, the number of cargo ships transiting the Bering Strait are increasing to new record highs and America's indigenous peoples are justifiably concerned with the impacts of these developments and changing conditions on their subsistence way of life," the letter said.

According to the letter, the U.S. Arctic policy was last updated and strengthened in 2009, and since, has "advanced in a less than organized fashion, with multiple federal agencies creating their own departmental policies, roadmaps, and vision and strategy statements to help guide future development.

"We think it is now time to take the next step in this policy development: creation of an overall national U.S. strategy for the Arctic," the senators wrote.

Noted in the letter were several priority areas where specific goals and objectives were needed. Those included exercising national sovereignty as well as multilateral cooperation, increased knowledge of climate change and its impacts, promotion of resource development and infrastructure needs. The letter also noted the need for addressing the cultural and subsistence needs of the indigenous peoples of the region.

"Development of a comprehensive national Arctic strategy would be a logical and needed extension of this work and be a lasting legacy of your administration's leadership on Arctic issues," the senators wrote, adding that they pledged support for any such effort.

Carey Restino can be reached at crestino(at)reportalaska.comThis article was originally published in The Arctic Sounder and is reprinted here with permission.