Murkowski introduces sweeping Arctic bill, calling for year-round military presence at Port of Nome, Port Clarence
By Peter Loewi
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski last week introduced to the Senate the Arctic Commitment Act, addressing Arctic security, shipping, and research, among other topics she deemed national priorities. The legislation aims “to enhance the United States’ standing as an Arctic nation by facilitating greater maritime accessibility, strong trading partners and reliable infrastructure.”
The Port of Nome features heavily in the bill and is mentioned in connection with the U.S. military in ways that it hadn’t been before, such as exploring the feasibility of a permanent, year-round presence of the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard in Nome. The act directs the Secretary of the Navy in consultation with the Commandant of the Coast Guard to engage with the Army Corps of Engineers “to ensure that the Port of Nome is usable for the implementation of the National Strategy for the Arctic Region and the Arctic strategy of the Department of the Navy, as described in the strategic blueprint for the Arctic of the Department of the Navy entitled ‘A Blue Arctic.’”
The National Strategy for the Arctic Region is a 2013 Department of Defense document which states the U.S.’s “desired end-state for the Arctic: a secure and stable region where U.S. national interests are safeguarded, the U.S. homeland is protected, and nations work cooperatively to address challenges.” The Blue Arctic is a 2021 U.S. Navy document which claims to look 20 years into the future as a blueprint for how the Navy will prepare for an “increasingly accessible and navigable Arctic Region.” The Blue Arctic document does not use the term “climate change.”
The Arctic Commitment Act calls for a joint report from the Coast Guard Commandant and the Secretary of the Navy to describe the requirements necessary to establish – and the feasibility of establishing – a persistent, year-round presence of the Navy and the Coast Guard at the Port of Nome as well as at the former Coast Guard station at Port Clarence, in addition to Cape Blossom, the Pribilofs, St. George, Adak and other ports. The bill was cosponsored by Senator Angus King (I-ME) and mentions several ports in Maine as places that the Navy and Coast Guard should include in a report to Congress about potential year-round presence.
The act asks for an estimate of costs of constructing onshore infrastructure that “will be required to support year-round maritime operations in the vicinity of the Bering Sea and Arctic region.”
A separate section of the bill addresses shipping, calling for the elimination of a perceived Russian monopoly on Arctic Shipping. Increased shipping activity has been taking place even in the dead of winter on the Russian side of the international border through the Bering Strait. LNG tankers, even cargo ships escorted by icebreakers and a heavylift vessel traversed the Bering Strait on the Russian side just this January and February. The bill calls for a report to congressional committees describing the “control and influence of the Russian Federation on shipping in the Arctic region” and to include a plan in the report “for eliminating the Russian monopoly on shipping in the Arctic region to enable an increase in United States’ presence in the Arctic shipping domain.”
The bill asks for reports to 10 different Congressional committees: Armed Services, Homeland Security, Foreign Affairs, Energy, and Intelligence for both the House and Senate. It establishes an Arctic Shipping Federal Advisory Committee, to be funded by the Department of Transportation, reauthorizes the Arctic Executive Steering Committee and seeks to expand investment to Arctic Countries and Arctic Indigenous Organizations through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation. It also calls for licenses for the export of hydrogen be included in the 1974 Deepwater Port Act and for a report on all federally-funded research into the Arctic, among other things.
The bill proposes changes to language to the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984 to reflect that “changing Arctic conditions directly affect global weather and climate patterns and must be better understood” and “Since a rapidly changing climate will reshape the economic, social, cultural, political, environmental and security landscape of the Arctic region, sustained, robust, coordinated, reliable, appropriately funded and dependable Arctic research is required to inform and influence sound United States domestic and international Arctic policy.”
In a press release announcing the introduction of the bill on Wednesday, August 3, Senator Murkowski said “I am proud to introduce this comprehensive Arctic bill—covering everything from arctic shipping, to national security, to domain awareness and presence, and strengthening our relationships with fellow Arctic nations. Opportunities abound in the Arctic, but accompanying them are great challenges and serious competition. This legislation takes measures to help protect our Arctic interests, project our capabilities in the High North, leverage our strategic location, and deepen relations with Arctic allies.”
Senator Murkowski’s office had not responded by press time to questions from the Nugget.