Begich Introduces Key Arctic Bills
Strengthen Arctic Science, Health, Diplomacy
Strengthening America’s understanding of changes underway in the Arctic, the impacts of Arctic warming on the health of northern residents and strengthening the nation’s international presence in the Arctic are the subjects of three bills being introduced in the Senate today by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich.
“As we face an Arctic Ocean which is increasingly ice-free, our country has both an historic opportunity and enormous challenges,” Begich said. “That’s why we need to know more about the changes underway in the Arctic, what they mean for resource development and transportation in the North and how the changes impact people who live there.”
Begich announced his Arctic package in a speech to a conference on Arctic Security in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).
Brian Rogers, Chancellor of the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, applauded Begich’s bills explaining, "Sen. Begich today announced important legislation that will enhance scientific and policy-related efforts throughout the North. As the nation's Arctic university, the University of Alaska Fairbanks is keenly aware of the need for additional research and policy-related support in order to better understand and address the many challenges and opportunities ahead. Sen. Begich’s legislation will help ensure we have the knowledge foundation to guide future development in the Arctic and make sure America is a leader on Arctic issues."
The first of Begich’s three bills would create a scientific research program dedicated to filling gaps in Arctic knowledge.
“One of the key challenges in the Arctic is the lack of basic scientific knowledge needed to make the increasingly complicated policy decisions,” Begich said. “Both NOAA and Interior have excellent but woefully underfunded climate research and adaptation programs.”
The program would be administered by the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and funded by a portion of the annual earnings of the Environmental Improvement and Restoration Fund (EIRF). The EIRF, an established endowment, was set up from proceeds of a past settlement of litigation over oil revenues from the Arctic. The bill would:
- Authorize funds to help researchers better understand changing distributions of plants and animals supporting the subsistence needs of the peoples of the Arctic;
- Help communities plan for and adapt to the changing climate;
- Provide support for hydrographic surveys, mapping sensitive habitats and collecting meteorological data;
- Strengthen the role of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission
- Increase funding from the EIRF for the North Pacific Research Board and the Alaska Ocean Observing System;
Recognizing the unique health needs of people in the Arctic region, Begich’s second bill authorizes a study to better understand the causes of the numerous health problems rife in the Arctic and their prevention and treatment. Northern populations experience shorter life expectancy due to suicide and injuries compared to populations living in more moderate climates, higher rates of alcohol abuse, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.
With a particular focus on Alaska, the bill would:
- Address the science base, gaps in knowledge, and strategies for the prevention and treatment of mental, behavioral, and physical health problems faced by populations in the Arctic;
- Create an Arctic Health Desk at the National Institutes of Health (NIH);
- Establish a program at the National Center of Environmental Health of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention to foster advances and help provide technical support in the field of Arctic health impact assessments;
The third of Begich’s Arctic bills would heighten America’s diplomatic presence by naming a U.S. Ambassador to the Arctic to strengthen U.S. influence over Arctic policy decisions.
“The changes we see in the Arctic warrant a higher level of involvement from the U.S. This bill will give us a diplomatic presence, allowing the U.S. to exercise leadership and vision in Arctic policy moving forward.”
Begich has been advocating for an Arctic ambassador since he came to the Senate and has worked closely with the administration on this issue, particularly Secretary of State Clinton who has engaged in high level of involvement in the Arctic Council. Six of the eight Arctic nations currently have ambassador-level diplomats representing their interests before the Arctic Council. The bills are being introduced today when the Senate convenes into session.