Change in the Arctic Brings Opportunities, Challenges for States

What happens in the Arctic doesn’t necessarily stay in the Arctic.

That was the theme Saturday at the CSG West WESTRENDS Board meeting, where legislators, academics and private sector representatives came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities for the region as it experiences significant change, as well as the implications for other states and neighboring countries.

“Alaska makes this country an Arctic nation. All states should have an interest in the Arctic, because it will benefit all states,” said Alaska Rep. Bob Herron.

Alaska Sen. Lesil McGuire, who co-chairs the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission with Herron, recalled a meeting last year with representatives of the White House Executive Office. A state delegation discovered the administration was in the final stages of preparing a “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” without ever consulting with representatives of the state.

The commission was established to respond to federal overreach, insert the voice of Alaskans into federal discussions about Arctic development, and “put into place a policy that is Alaska-based and value-based, driven by the people who live and work here in the Arctic,” said McGuire.

Scott Rupp, a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has spent much of the past two decades studying the Arctic and agrees the changes experienced in Alaska have national implications.

Dramatic reductions in sea ice coverage and snowpack in recent years have widespread implications for temperature regulation, resulting in significant changes for those in lower latitudes. Extreme changes in the jet stream that have caused polar vortexes in the lower 48 states, he said, represent just one example.

Rupp noted, however, the changes in the Arctic region’s climate may be felt far beyond the weather. Longer agriculture seasons, increased shipping capabilities and stronger tourism already are being seen as a result of climatic changes in the region, and more are expected.

“The varying climate that we’ve experienced here in the Arctic will be a major player in conversations about energy and alternative energy resources,” he said.

McGuire and Herron agreed the changing Arctic climate presents new opportunities for regional economic development, and proposed legislation that would establish an Arctic Development Program/Fund would promote those opportunities further. The bill would create more opportunities for private investment in such areas as oil production and other development activities.

“There’s potential for us to think about this for workforce development and jobs,” said McGuire.