Arctic Report to the President
April 4, 2013
I'm David Hayes, the deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior. I'm here today to tell you about a new report to the president that was recently released. It's called, "Managing for the Future in a Rapidly Changing Arctic." It's an interagency report that I think lays out a challenge for the future that is extraordinarily important for America.
Let me explain briefly how this report came to be and then tease you with a few of the highlights of the report.
The report came out of an interagency working group that President Obama put together in July of 2011 -- he asked me to be the chair of this group -- to help organize permitting of energy projects in Alaska.
As our deputy secretary group went about its business, we found several important points about how the arctic was being managed. First, we had 20 or more federal agencies involved in the arctic, each with a narrow slice of important mission, but often not coordinating. Secondly, we found that while there was a lot of science available in the arctic, a lot of it was not readily available.
All of this made us think that we needed to step back and provide the president with a broader view of how to manage the arctic going forward. The reasons why this is important is because the arctic is a high priority for the United States. It is a rapidly changing area in terms of climate. It's also rapidly changing in a related way, in terms of economic change and opportunity.
As the ice melts, so does the shipping increase in the arctic with more commercial shipping. We've got oil and gas development developing in the area. We have mining and other interests. At the same time that climate change is affecting some of the ecosystems that are so important for Alaska natives and others that rely on subsistence of whale hunts and caribou herd migrations.
We did this report to step back and look at how we can better coordinate the science with decision making and then how to make our decision making better in the arctic. Here's what we came up with.
We came up with the notion that first, let's get the science in one place. Chapter two of this report lays out, I think, more clearly than anywhere else I have seen how rapidly the climate is changing in Alaska. Issues of temperature rise, of permafrost melt, of ice reductions, of coastal erosion are all happening much more rapidly because as you get near the poles the impact of climate change becomes more pronounced.
We're seeing it in Alaska in a major way. This report chronicles that change.
At the same time, Fran Ulmer, who is chair of the Arctic Research Commission, in an appendix to this report announces that an arctic science portal is being developed on the web to facilitate scientists and decision makers getting all that information together for easier access for everybody to the science that's going on in the arctic.
That's foundation number one for this report, is a review of the science of the arctic.
Foundation number two is to look at the various visions for the arctic that different stakeholders have. We looked at the federal government, at the state of Alaska, at the Alaskan native communities, at industry, including oil and gas, shipping, tourism, fishing, et cetera. We looked at municipal governments and we looked conservation organizations.
We asked all of them, "Tell us your vision for the future of the arctic." We laid out their visions in chapter three of this report. It lays out some commonalities, to be sure. Everyone wants the arctic to continue to be an environmentally sound and productive place, but it's clear that the various visions do not all match up and that conflict is inevitable in the arctic.
That led us to the final foundation of this report, which is how do we manage, going forward, to do a better job of integrating the science and good decision making in the arctic?
We've come up with a number of important recommendations. First is the idea that we should look at the arctic as a broader, holistic system and not just permit projects on a one off basis. In other words, when the government or business is presented with making an important decision about where to put a project in the arctic, there should be a better sense of the environmental sensitivities around that area, potential connected projects, potential impacts on subsistence needs.
We call this concept, "Integrated Arctic Management." It stands at the core of the recommendations of this report. We also recommend to the president that he continue to provide high level leadership on the arctic in an integrated effort to coordinate among the many federal agencies involved and to reach, in particular, to the state of Alaska and to Alaskan native groups as two of the most important stakeholders.
The final set of recommendations in this report emphasizes the need to adopt the concept of integrated arctic management when it comes to making decisions about what projects to permit where in the arctic.
What we need to do is get away from the permit by permit, one off project evaluations that don't consider the broad panoply of factors involved when it comes to the arctic. There needs to be a better understanding, for example, across the board of sensitive environmental areas that perhaps should be avoided, of important areas for subsistence use for the residents in the area, be they whalers or folks who are going out and capturing caribou or seals for their livelihood.
There needs to be much more of an understanding of the broad landscape upon which decisions shall be made.
Additional important recommendations in the report call on the president to continue to provide high level White House attention on arctic issues. That's needed for the science. It's needed in international relations given the great interest in the arctic by many countries.
In addition, we should be, as part of integrated arctic management, be much more organized about how we look at the environmental issues instead of doing siloed environmental reviews. Have a team approach to those issues. Do more scenario planning. That type of initiative.
These are important recommendations. They're groundbreaking recommendations. We think this report merits your review. Please look at the report. It's available on the web at DOI.gov. Thank you very much.