President Barack Obama today issued an executive order aimed at coordinating federal action on the Arctic. The order establishes a new Arctic executive steering committee. It will have some two dozen members, including deputy secretaries from the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior. Among the stated goals is to better collaborate with the State of Alaska and Alaska tribes.
“You’d be amazed at how many people work and how many agencies work on the Arctic,” said Marilyn Heiman, a former Alaska policy advisor to the Interior secretary in the Clinton administration. “And having one place where all the issues are addressed and the agencies are convened to discuss the issues I think will help.”
The order, which emphasizes the impact of climate change, is part of the federal government’s preparations for assuming chairmanship of the international Arctic Council this spring. Heiman says the effort will only be successful if the U.S. develops good standards for things like Arctic drilling and shipping.
“Other countries look to the United States for leadership and the stronger we are on our policies in Alaska the stronger we can be in leading the Arctic Council,” said Heiman, who now works on Arctic conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski faintly praises the executive order’s promise of consultation with Alaskans. But she says Washington-based environmental groups have too much sway while priorities of Alaskans are neglected.
“Science-based decision making is essential as we move forward, but we cannot ‘study’ ourselves into inaction,” she said in a written statement. “Investment and vision are needed – in infrastructure, ice breakers, and a predictable federal oil and gas permitting process – to craft an Arctic economy.”
Murkowski says president Obama’s Arctic policy boils down to two words: “Hands Off.”