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Begich Supports Law of the Sea Treaty in New York Speech

Focus on Arctic Energy Development at Council on Foreign Relations

Saying the Arctic is key to the nation's future energy needs, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich March 1 reiterated his support for ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in remarks before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City

"The Law of the Sea was negotiated in 1982 to settle long-standing disputes over national rights to offshore waters and resources and Senate ratification of this treaty would put the United States at the table at a time of great change in the Arctic," Begich said.

Sen. Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski were invited guests to speak at the Council on Foreign Relations strategic ocean governance roundtable series with the topic "Adapting to Climate Change in the Arctic." Several Alaskans were on hand for the discussion.

The United States has signed the Law of the Sea Treaty and abides by most of its terms but is among a handful of nations - including Libya, North Korea and Iran - that have not ratified the Law of the Sea.  Failure to do so would prohibit our nation from making claims to areas of the continental shelf beyond our 200-mile limit.

Survey work last summer found the continental shelf above Alaska extends much further than previously thought.  The United States may be able to claim even greater areas of potentially resource rich outer continental shelf but only if we ratify the Law of the Sea, Begich said.

"Support for the Law of the Sea Treaty comes from a broad spectrum of organizations, from environmental groups and oil companies to the U.S. military," Begich added.  "I support ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty and will work for its adoption this Congress."

Calling Alaska "ground zero" for climate change, Begich has taken the lead on Arctic issues and sponsored several bills that address the needs of residents of the region from the impacts from warming temperatures, a melting polar ice pack and thawing permafrost.

To deal with these challenges and opportunities, Begich introduced seven bills dealing with Arctic issues before the U.S. Congress.  Called the Inuvikput package - after the Inupiaq word for "the place where we live" - Begich's bills are intended to address local concerns and better position our nation for the opportunities in the region.   They call for:
    • Better coordination of scientific research in the Arctic;
    • Addressing the health needs of Arctic residents and meeting the needs of communities to adapt to the affects of climate change;
    • Sharing revenues from oil and gas development with local communities;
    • Research into oil spill response in broken ice conditions;
    • A heightened diplomatic presence in the Arctic;
    • And increased investment in basic Arctic infrastructure: forward operating bases for the Coast Guard; navigation aids, communications capability, and icebreakers.
Begich's legislation to better coordinate Arctic research is moving forward in Congress and work continues on other bills in the Inuvikput package.  Funding for a new Arctic research vessel for the University of Alaska was largely funded with a $123 million construction contract in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The 254-foot, ice-hardened vessel will be ready for scientific work in the Arctic in three years.

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