US Senator for Alaska: Worried About Lack of Governmental Support
Alaska - like other Arctic regions - is rich in resources, but lack the work force to access it. “And in many cases we do not have the support from the government to help facilitate that”, says Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski (R), who is concerned about the implementation of the new US Arctic strategy.
As previous covered by High North News, last October the United States of America released a new national Arctic strategy, the first update since 2013, setting the country’s priorities for the coming 10 years.
The strategy suggests four key pillars of US Arctic policy: Security, climate change and environmental protection, sustainable development, and international cooperation and governance.
However; the document leaves unanswered the question of how the new strategy will be implemented through actions by different branches of the US government.
Impressed and worried
Although Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski (R) is impressed with the focus and engagement on the Arctic that is now emerging from the US Government, she has a few concerns about the implementation of the strategy in the American Arctic.
“The biggest challenge for implementation is to be sure that we are doing what we need to build the capacity”, says Murkowski, mentioning the Biden Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that brings funding to build roads, high speed internet, public transportation, pipes and airports. To mention a few.
Silent when it comes to the issue of any resource development.
But means by itself is not enough.
“It is one thing to have the money, it is another thing to have the individuals in place to help build it”, says the senator to High North News during her visit to the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Northern Norway.
“One of the concerns I have about the strategy, is that it seeks to build economic opportunities for the people of the Arctic. But it is almost silent when it comes to the issue of any resource development”, says Murkowski.
Rich in resources
There is no denial that Americas 49th state is rich in natural resources like vast reserves of coal, oil, natural gas, zinc, and lumber. Not to mention fish.
“We have significant quantities of so much, but what we do not have is a strong, sufficient work force to access it. And also, in many cases, we do not have the support from the government to help facilitate that”, says Lisa Murkowski.
It is a paradox to her that on one hand the government want to build up a strong economy, but without guidance or support to what that might look like in a remote area.
According to the strategy, the US is committed to "regular, meaningful, and robust consultation, coordination, and co-management with Alaska Native Tribes, communities, corporations, and other organizations and to ensuring equitable inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge".
To the Alaska senator this is not the same as actually acting on the feeback that was given.
“Were the people of Alaska left out in the making of the strategy?”
“No, I do think that there was an effort when the national strategy was made. An effort to do consultations with the indigenous peoples. But it is one thing to invite people to convene and to hear some ideas. It is another thing to put those in place”, says Murkowski.
“Even put it down on paper and recognize it. It is clearly a document of value as it has been updated. But when you have a state like Alaska, where the one thing that we do have is resources – and it is not even mentioned in the strategy as a means of economic development…”, Murkowski pauses;
“It seems like a level of inconsistency”.
“How would you change that?”
“What must happen is more engagement with local people, using the knowledge and all that they can contribute with. Those who have lived in the Arctic, who knows how to build in the Arctic, and how to care for the environment; they are the ultimate conservationists and stewards because it is in their best interest to not foul the land.”
She wonders if the US government simply does not trust the Alaskans with the job.
“This is the land that gives them everything from the berries to the caribou, to the good streams for the fish to spawn. So sometimes I think there is this sense that Alaskan people cannot take care of the land around them”, Murkowski ponders.
Still, to build capacity and strenghten the Alaska work force is not an easy fix - even with a strategy in place.The is no denying that Alaska is facing the same challenge as the rest of the Arctic; depopulation.
We are seeing people leave.
Since 2012, more people have left Alaska than moved in. This, combined with declining birth rates has led to lower populations since 2015, according to the latest report from Alaska Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development.
“We are seeing people leave. We have ten straight years of outmigration from the state, which is tough when you are trying to build up a work force. So everything we are doing is to help facilitate growth and opportunity, and it is something that we work on every day”, says Murkowski, listing up work to build out the infrastructure with everything from roads, rails, bridges, ferries, broadband, water and waste water.
As well as delayed plans of new icebreakers.
The US Government is also strengthening the number of people who work on Arctic issues.
“Just in the past few years we have established an Arctic Ambassador, and we are waiting for the administration to announce who that will be. I am told that the announcement is imminent. This is promising because it reinforces the United States commitment and presence to the Arctic”, the Alaska Senator informs.
She expects the investments will reflect the Governments priorities in the Arctic.
“When you put people in place, you work through your agency to make sure your budget reflects Arctic priorities, and we are working to advance that as the President is laying down his budget in these next several weeks going forward”.
Although concerned, Lisa Murkowski has not seen this level of engagement from the United States since she stepped onto the political stage some 20 years ago.
“We have seen an updated national Arctic strategy and we have just established The Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies. So not only from the administration side are we seeing an increased interest and focus on the Arctic. But certainly within the Congress itself and how we are seeking to put our money behind Arctic investments and Arctic strategies", concludes the senator of Alaska to HNN.