(Senate - December 11, 2018)

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[Pages S7432-S7435]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      By Ms. MURKOWSKI (for herself and Mr. Sullivan):
  S. 3739. A bill to amend the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984 
to modify the membership of the Arctic Research Commission, to 
establish an Arctic Executive Steering Committee, and for other 
purposes; to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
  Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, there has been a lot of discussion this 
evening by my colleague from New Jersey and by my colleague from Rhode 
Island about the issue of climate change and its impact. I come from a 
part of the country where climate change is there; it is with us; it is 
real. It is something that we look to as Alaskans with a reality of 
this world view.
  I spend a lot of my time here in the Senate focused on not only the 
U.S. Arctic but the Arctic as a whole, the eight Arctic nations that we 
intersect with. So I would like to take a few minutes this evening to 
speak about the happenings in the Arctic--our new reality--as we are 
seeing greater opportunities but also greater challenges in an area 
that I find to be an extraordinary place on our globe.
  It was maybe a little more than 150 years ago when Massachusetts 
Senator and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 
the time, Charles Sumner, argued the geostrategic importance of Alaska 
to our young Nation at the time. Senator Sumner spoke about how the 
Aleutians represented this gateway to Asia. This was a maritime route 
to the west coast that was roughly 1,000 miles shorter than the 
southern route through the Sandwich Isles, which was popular at the 
  It was about 70 years later that Gen. Billy Mitchell, who was the 
father of the Air Force, testified before Congress and said that he 
believed that in the future, whoever controls Alaska controls the 
world. He thought it was the most strategic place in the world.
  Then we had World War II, the Japanese, who also recognized the 
strategic importance of the Aleutians, and they briefly seized and 
occupied the islands of Attu and Kiska.
  While the war in the Aleutians may be forgotten by many here at home, 
the world continues to remember the strategic significance of the 
  Although General Mitchell saw the strategic geographic location of 
Alaska, he could not have imagined the environmental changes that would 
make sea routes accessible to commerce year-round, nor could he have 
imagined the rich mineral wealth beneath the Arctic. He might have been 
able to have imagined that Russia would take a major interest in the 
Arctic. Given its proximity from the Bering Strait region of Alaska, 
one can indeed see Russia from one's window. There are not too many 
people on Little Diomede, but I have been there. Big Diomede sits just 
about 2\1/2\ miles across the water, but I doubt that General Mitchell 
would ever have been able to have imagined that nations like China or 
India would have taken an interest in the very remote and often 
forbidding North, less that they would be fielding icebreakers in 2019 
and 2020, as China and India are. He might also wonder why Singapore 
would take such an interest to justify observer status on the Arctic 
  While places like Singapore seek observer status, the United States 
has passed the chairmanship of the Arctic Council and, with it, most of 
our diplomatic efforts towards the Arctic. The

[[Page S7433]]

Arctic Executive Steering Committee and other institutions within the 
executive branch that are focused on the Arctic have, in my view, just 
kind of wasted away just when the rest of the world has redoubled its 
focus on the Arctic.
  The Department of Defense clearly gets it. It is starting to 
recognize what General Mitchell did back in 1935. Before the Defense 
Appropriations Subcommittee back in May 2016, I asked Secretary Carter 
whether we were doing what we needed to do from a defense standpoint to 
address changes in the Arctic. His response was pretty frank and, I 
think, very revealing. He told me that the Arctic is going to be a 
major area of importance to the United States strategically and 
economically in the future.
  I think it is fair to say that we are late to the recognition of 
that, but I think we have the recognition. Now you are asking what 
comes in behind that recognition. I think a plan that is more than 
aspirational is needed, and I would be happy to work with you toward 
that end.
  At that time, Secretary Carter's candor was refreshing, if not long 
overdue, but I have to tell you that we are still waiting for a plan 
that is more aspirational in the Arctic--not just a plan but a plan 
that is fully resourced. As an appropriator, I know full well how 
difficult that is to achieve.
  Sometimes around here, like a tree that falls in the forest when 
there is nobody there to listen, it seems like official Washington 
doesn't recognize that something new and very real is occurring until 
it reads about it in the New York Times or perhaps in the Washington 
Post. Well, on Thanksgiving Day of this year, the Washington Post 
really laid it out. It had a special section--some 16 pages--which is 
entitled ``The New Arctic Frontier.'' I would like to quote from the 
cover of this special section.
  It reads:

       As the Arctic slowly thaws, the United States, Canada, 
     Russia, China and other interested nations are reconsidering 
     how they strategically approach the region. Corporations have 
     launched new missions to search for oil. Commercial fishing 
     continues to evolve. Shipping and luxury cruise lines alike 
     are planning to send more vessels north. Coastal erosion has 
     prompted questions about how some Alaskan villages will 
     survive and how the U.S. government should react. Against 
     this backdrop, militaries are increasingly preparing for 
     potential conflict in the Arctic. The United States is 
     shifting forces to the north, planning to build a new class 
     of icebreaker ships and cultivating stronger relationships 
     with Nordic militaries. Russia, meanwhile, is investing in 
     ice-capable vessels and infrastructure improvements, and 
     China has declared itself a ``near Arctic state.''

  This really sums up where we are today.
  Truth be told, General Mitchell has been proven to be correct in ways 
that he probably could not have imagined when he said Alaska was the 
most strategic place in the world. For example, right now, here today, 
Anchorage has the fifth busiest cargo airport in the world--not in the 
country but in the world. So we are sitting here in Anchorage, AK. We 
are less than 9\1/2\ hours from 90 percent of the industrialized world. 
So whether you are going to Singapore, London, Mexico City, we are less 
than 9\1/2\ hours from 90 percent of the industrialized world. So many 
carriers, such as FedEx, UPS, Alaska Airlines, Atlas Air, and others, 
are already using Anchorage as a cargo hub because of this very, very 
central location and these very real opportunities for commerce. We are 
also looking to regain the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport 
position as a hub for international passenger travel.
  Now we are getting ready for the holiday season, for Christmas. I 
think Santa had this figured out a long time ago. He knew that the 
shortest way to get around the globe, whether you were going to Fiji or 
to London or to Los Angeles or to Seoul, was over the Pole. Even Santa 
understood the geostrategic position of the Arctic. But it is Alaska. 
It really is Alaska, sitting right up there, which is the gateway to 
America's Arctic, that is at the center of all of this. That is not 
just bragging, not just my being parochial about it as Alaska's 
Senator. It is real, it is compelling, and it is demanding of attention 
and action. I know it is not easy.
  The Washington Post's editors observed that the Arctic portends great 
opportunities and great challenges, so let's get to work on this. That 
is my central message today. It is time that we get to work and move 
ahead with a plan that fits the challenge that the Arctic represents 
for America. We talk a lot about aspiration. The time for aspiration is 
over--it is time for action. That starts by fully funding the first of 
the Coast Guard's Polar Security Cutters, whose purpose is to provide 
assured, year-round access to our polar regions. These are platforms 
that can project sea power anywhere, at any time, and are fully 
interoperable with interagency and international stakeholders to carry 
out national defense operations. These cutters will include sufficient 
space, weight, and power to conduct multimission activities that 
support our Nation's current and future needs in the Arctic.
  The Polar Security Cutter will allow us to continue to engage with 
our fellow Arctic nations and our allies and our strategic competitors.
  I share with you a picture of our existing Polar icebreaker, but when 
you look around the world at the various flags, here we are sitting in 
the United States--one of eight Arctic nations--and we have two 
icebreakers. I say two--maybe that is all we need. One of them is 
currently in dry dock in the Seattle-Tacoma area. She is never going to 
see activity again. The other one, Polar Star, is on her second life. 
She is working hard, but she is down in Antarctica, and she will be in 
Antarctica until she, too, is retired. Then where does that leave us? 
Where does that put us?
  We have a medium-strength vessel, the Healy. She does great work, but 
that is what the United States has.
  Canada has nine government-owned, either operating or under 
construction. China has four--China, which has just determined they 
should be a ``Near-Arctic State.'' Russia has 34, and when you count 
those that are nongovernment-owned, it is well over 40.
  Here we are, the United States of America, an Arctic nation, and we 
are down to about one icebreaker. We have some work to do here.
  Over the past several years, funds have been secured through the Navy 
to get started on building a new Polar Security Cutter. This year, the 
administration wisely decided--and I thank them for working with us--
that it is time to lock in the project by budgeting the remaining funds 
necessary to complete the project. It is about $750 million. That is a 
lot of money. That is a lot of money, but I would submit that this 
investment in the Polar Security Cutter is a small price to pay for the 
ability to project U.S. sea power in the Arctic.
  The question of whether we follow through on this very important step 
is going to be determined this week, or perhaps next week, as we 
complete the fiscal year 2019 appropriations project. I would dare to 
suggest that our competitors in the Arctic are watching very, very 
closely whether we have the resolve to follow through on the first of 
these Polar Security Cutters.
  Bringing the Polar Security Cutter online will give us capacity--we 
appreciate that--but the next and perhaps even more difficult challenge 
is to build the infrastructure to support the next phase of U.S. sea 
power in the Arctic. Most critical for that is the development of a 
deepwater port in the Bering Sea.
  Our reality right now is that the Alaska deepwater port nearest to 
the Arctic is located in the Bering Sea. Dutch Harbor is almost 1,000 
miles away from the Arctic. I am looking at my imaginary Alaska map 
here, but when you are down in the Aleutians--that is the nearest 
deepwater port--it is 1,000 miles to get to Point Hope, to Barrow, and 
that area.
  A port is a critical piece of infrastructure that is needed, and it 
will serve many, many uses. It can support the Navy, the Coast Guard, 
and NOAA's research missions. It will support search and rescue 
activities that may be necessitated by increasing commercial vessel 
traffic in the Arctic, and it will provide a platform for the United 
States to harvest some of the economic upside of the vessel transits. 
RADM Jon White, U.S. Navy, retired, is President and CEO of the 
Consortium for Ocean Leadership. At a recent event, which was sponsored 
by the Wilson Center, he characterized the requirement for a deepwater 
port in the Arctic as a ``no-brainer.'' He went on to

[[Page S7434]]

say: ``Unfortunately, it's not a no-coster.''
  Last summer, Navy Secretary Spencer looked at various sites, 
potential sites for a deepwater port. He is very engaged in seeing how 
we can work together to bring the funding partners to make this happen. 
We look forward to working with him toward this endeavor. His 
engagement is so greatly--greatly--appreciated. He clearly understands 
the potential here.
  All of these developments are very, positive, far more positive than 
we have seen in recent years. I am grateful for that. They are building 
  The race to protect America's strategic interest in the Arctic 
demands attention on more than just defense; it will take coordination. 
That is why I am going to introduce today two pieces of legislation 
that are designed to reinvigorate America's national and commercial 
strategic efforts.
  For well over a decade now, you have heard me talk about how the 
diminishing Arctic sea ice presents both opportunities and concerns. If 
you look at this map here, you are looking at planet Earth from the 
perspective that most of us in Alaska view, which is from the top on 
down. You have the U.S. Arctic here with Alaska. You have the Canadian 
Arctic here. Here is Russia coming all the way around to Iceland, and 
Greenland is down in this area.
  As I mentioned at the beginning of my comments, we recognize the 
impact that climate change is having on the Arctic--rapid impacts, 
clearly--more so than in any other part of the United States.
  The latest report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program 
underscored this fact. Since the early eighties, the annual Arctic sea 
ice extent has gone down by about 4 percent per decade. The decrease 
for September sea ice extent--this is the time of year where we have 
had the least amount of ice. This time period has been even more 
pronounced at somewhere between 10.7 and 15.9 percent per decade in 
terms of the decrease in the sea ice.
  What does all of this mean? According to that report, it means we are 
likely to experience a sea ice-free Arctic summer before this century 
is out.
  Again, when you are looking at the top of the globe, looking at the 
Arctic here, all of the area in the light blue--you can't see the red 
around it--was all of the extent of the September sea ice back in 1979. 
In 2015--3 years ago--the extent of that September ice is here in the 
pink. As you can appreciate, as you are losing this throughout more 
parts of the year, it does point to a reality that we are likely to see 
in the not too terribly distant future--a sea ice-free Arctic summer.
  Loss of sea ice in the Arctic, of course, goes hand in hand with 
overall temperature warming. Over the last several years, it has been 
somewhat common to refer to the Arctic and include the fact that it is 
warming at twice the rate of the rest of the country. This latest 
climate report shows us that this is not exactly right.
  In fact, the North Slope of Alaska--this corner right there--is 
warming at 2.6 times the rate of the continental United States. Much of 
the rest of Alaska is warming at more than twice the continental U.S. 
rate as well. So it is not just twice as fast; it is more than twice as 
fast. Again, we are paying attention.
  I face this reality. I hear about this reality every time I step off 
an airplane in a rural community. I listen to the people there, 
particularly the elders, as they share their knowledge. Record low 
extent of Arctic sea ice threatens many of our indigenous communities 
because of threats of coastal erosion. With less ice, waves build up, 
beat against the shore, and erode it. It is more than just coastal 
erosion; it is the impact on their traditional ways of life--food 
security issues, hunting, access to resources to basically exist.
  We are very in tune. It is not just through the eyes of the people 
who are living there; this is abundantly clear in both the scientific 
data that is collected by our State and our Federal Agencies, as well 
as the experience of rural Alaska Natives.
  According to this most recent report, the cost of infrastructure 
damaged from a warming climate in Alaska alone--we had our own chapter 
in the report--could range from $110 to $270 million per year. So 
changes to our air, our water, our soil, our food security, our disease 
ecology directly and directly resulting from our warming climate are 
going to impact the lives and the health of every Alaskan.
  On the one hand, the future in the Arctic looks increasingly 
challenging for our rural communities. Then, on the other hand, the 
future also represents a new frontier. There are opportunities out 
there, whether they are in construction, in tourism, in energy, in 
minerals, in shipping, or in community development. You have 
challenges, and you have opportunities.
  For some time now, my team and I have been working on two pieces of 
Arctic legislation to support responsible investment and development in 
the U.S. Arctic. It hasn't been easy to meet the expectations and the 
needs of rural and indigenous communities that are most impacted by 
climate change in the U.S. Arctic, while, at the same time, focusing on 
economic development, environmental stewardship, human security, but we 
have really been trying to mesh these all together. I believe these two 
bills that I am introducing, along with Senator Sullivan--the Arctic 
Policy Act of 2018 and the Shipping and Environmental Arctic Leadership 
Act of 2018; that is, the SEAL Act--I think are steps in the right 
direction, helping us move closer to meeting these objectives.
  The first bill, the Arctic Policy Act of 2018, will statutorily 
establish the Arctic Executive Steering Committee under the Department 
of Homeland Security and provide the coordination necessary to advance 
a truly integrated plan for the Arctic.
  By reinvigorating the central coordinating body for Arctic issues, 
the legislation will provide a venue to deliver the type of plan 
America needs and, more importantly, a place to work that plan into 
action across Agencies.
  As it stands now, everybody has a little bit of a piece of something 
when it comes to the Arctic, but it doesn't really seem as though there 
is any coordinating entity. When you don't have anybody who ultimately 
has that responsibility, oftentimes, it is hard to see the progress.
  We know Federal policy does not exist in a vacuum, so in addition to 
establishing the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, the legislation 
would also establish an Arctic Advisory Committee to ensure that 
residents of the Arctic and Alaska Native people have a seat at the 
table for the development of policy. They don't want to be sitting back 
and being told what is happening; they want a seat at the table. As the 
indigenous peoples of the region, they fully have that right.
  Further, the legislation calls for the establishment of regional 
Tribal advisory groups, starting with the Bering Sea Regional Tribal 
Advisory Group to advise the Federal Government as it shapes national 
priorities within the region. These Tribal advisory groups will be 
empowered to provide advice on specific challenges or regionally 
important issues.
  I would like to say that if you go to rural Alaska, if you go to a 
small village, you are not going to find a lot of Ph.D.s out there, but 
what they do have is a Ph.D. in Arctic living. They know what is going 
on. Their very lives and survival depend on understanding and 
appreciating the world around them.
  In the Arctic, we have an opportunity to show the world how to 
integrate indigenous knowledge and voices into policy and science. That 
is why the legislation will also update the Arctic Research and Policy 
Act of 1984. This was legislation my father introduced when he was here 
in the Senate. We will update this to include more Native voices at the 
Arctic Research Commission and thereby push to include traditional 
knowledge and community coordination in our Nation's scientific efforts 
in the Arctic, especially our efforts to study and understand climate 
      By Ms. MURKOWSKI (for herself and Mr. Sullivan):
  S. 3740. A bill to establish a congressionally chartered seaway 
development corporation in the Arctic, consistent with customary 
international law, with the intention of uniting Arctic nations in a 
cooperative Arctic shipping union, where voluntary collective maritime 
shipping fees will help fund the infrastructural and environmental

[[Page S7435]]

demands of safe and reliable shipping in the region; to the Committee 
on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
  Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, the second piece of legislation I am 
introducing is the Shipping and Environmental Arctic Leadership Act of 
2018--the SEAL Act--which establishes a congressionally chartered 
seaway development corporation in the Arctic.
  So this Arctic Corporation will work with representatives from NOAA, 
from the State Department, from the Coast Guard, and from DOT, as well 
as representatives from the State of Alaska, the Alaska business 
community, Alaska coastal and subsistence communities, and the Alaskan 
Maritime Labor Organization to help to develop an Arctic shipping union 
whose leadership will advocate for safe, secure, and reliable Arctic 
seaway development and further ensure that the Arctic becomes a place 
of international cooperation rather than competition or conflict.
  The capacity to get maritime and shipping services funded by means of 
international cooperation is not a new concept. We have seen it done, 
and it exists with the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation in 
the United States. This is one example where countries that share a 
large maritime border--the United States and Canada--are able to 
develop a seaway system--one that is safe, secure, and reliable for its 
  I have people stop me and say: Well, this is so many years off from 
when we are going to see levels of commercial activity in the Arctic. 
There is no real need to move on this, is there?
  Well, again, I will just remind you of some of the charts we have 
seen. The multiyear ice that once made the Arctic impassable and 
shielded our northernmost border year-round is diminishing, again, due 
to climate change. Because of this, shipping in and around the Arctic 
traffic will increase. So when you appreciate where we are with the 
Northwest Passage here, the Northwest Passage, by 2025, is 
intermittently open, but the for pathway, if you are going from the 
Bering Strait, right off of Alaska here and through Rotterdam, you are 
going to have an opportunity to basically be cutting through there.
  For the northern sea route, following through Russia, by 2025, they 
anticipate that this sea lane will be open for a full 6 weeks.
  The transpolar route, going more directly over the pole, by 2025 will 
have 2 weeks of open shipping.
  So, yes, shipping is going to increase. When you can figure out a 
quicker way to get from Asia to Europe, when you can shave off days, 
when you can use less fuel, you are saving money. So this is, from a 
trade perspective, hugely significant.
  But this looming increase in commercial vessel traffic also 
translates to greater demand for services and processes necessary to 
ensure that Arctic shipping can be reliable and safe for shippers that 
need to transport goods from one place to another on a timetable.
  This last chart that I am going to share is just a reminder of not 
today's reality, but this is the number of vessels that were tracked 
between year 2014 and 2015. So this is the Aleutians right down here. 
This is where the Great Circle route ships come through. It is so black 
here that you can't even tell that these are lines, but this 
demonstrates the level of existing traffic that we have here. Even 3 
years ago, the number of vessels that transited up to the Arctic, 
whether it was to go over into the Beaufort or the Chukchi in the 
Arctic Ocean or to go through the northern sea route in that 
direction--this is here, and this is now. This is what is happening in 
the Arctic.
  So what we are seeking to do with this SEAL legislation is to help to 
fund a system of Arctic ports--not just one port but a system of Arctic 
ports--ports of refuge for ships in trouble and ports to send, receive, 
and transship goods and people, private aids to navigation, all-weather 
tugs that can help ships that may have lost power or steerage, and to 
provide a commercial architecture to support the private sector 
investments in and use of icebreakers that can help ships that may be 
boxed in because of the ice. That happens.
  So as we talk about this proposal that we are laying down in this 
legislation, I have likened it to Uber for icebreakers. It helps people 
kind of understand what it is that we are looking at here.
  Port infrastructure will also benefit rural Arctic communities and 
bring down costs for delivering fuel, groceries, and other necessities 
which, in my State at this time, are just extraordinarily high. I think 
this legislation can help the United States to organize and attract 
investment opportunities for ports and icebreakers, for our own safety 
and for that of commercial vessels that are venturing into the Arctic, 
as well as, again, for those who live there.
  So these two bills, building on the strategic efforts of the 
Department of Defense and the strides that have been made in the NDAA, 
can provide the legislative direction needed to help to develop that 
aspirational plan that Secretary Carter recognized that we need.
  While I will be introducing these now, I am also going to be 
reintroducing them in the next Congress, and I certainly look forward 
to working with any and all of my colleagues and interested parties, as 
well as the executive branch, to refine them in the hopes that we can 
truly reclaim America's leadership role in the Arctic in this next