US lawmakers move to establish safe Arctic shipping committee

Icebreaker towing cargo ship through arctic. Credit: Vice and Virtue

Two senators from the US state of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, have introduced federal legislation to ensure that increased Arctic shipping activity proceeds safely.

The Arctic Shipping Federal Advisory Committee Act mandates the creation of an advisory committee to study Arctic maritime transport, including the development of seaways in the region. The committee would be made up of 15 members representing federal agencies, the States of Alaska and Washington, indigenous groups, and the shipping industry, among other stakeholders.

The group would convene to develop recommendations for how the United States could take a leading role in ensuring that Arctic shipping is safe, secure, and reliable. The bill has also been sponsored by Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker.

“With environmental changes opening sea routes potentially year-round and an increased global interest in the area, we continue to see greater opportunities, but also greater challenges in the Arctic,” said Senator Murkowski. “It’s imperative that the US maintains its leadership role in this region of global importance.”

The advisory committee will look to establish navigation and incident response frameworks to protect people and the environment in the Arctic.

“We are in the middle of a national awakening regarding the importance of the Arctic, and this bill is another crucial step in strengthening US leadership in the region,” said Senator Sullivan. “As rapidly changing sea ice opens new shipping lanes, the Arctic will experience an increase in maritime traffic. Although these circumstances will create new opportunities, they will also present unique obstacles to overcome.”

The legislation comes at a time of increased interest by the US government in exploiting its northernmost natural resources. In September, the Trump administration announced it would seek to open up the coastal plan of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration. The area has long been closed to drilling activity.