Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Arctic in the U.S. House of Representatives: “Science-based precautionary management” in the Arctic?

MARCH 25 UPDATE and corrigendum to this entry: On March 24 a joint oversight hearing took place on "Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf and the Future of our Oceans" before The House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, led by Jim Costa (D-CA), and Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, led by Del. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU). Read Scientific American's interview with Oceana's Jeffrey Short about his March 24 testimony here. Witnesses from a range of industry, environmental, government and academic institutions testified and are listed on the committee's website. The letter mentioned below relates directly to the March 24 hearing.

In advance of tomorrow’s hearing on "Climate Change and the Arctic: New Frontiers of National Security," before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, 67 Democratic members of the House have written to President Obama urging creation of an inter-agency task force to develop a conservation and energy plan for the Arctic. The letter calls for application of “science-based precautionary management” in the region, identifying the federal portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, as areas of particular concern.

The three witnesses scheduled for the March 25, 2009, hearing are Scott Borgerson, Council on Foreign Relations; Robert Corell, The Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; and Mead Treadwell, Institute of the North. The hearings can be viewed via webcast here. Texts of each of their prepared statements are available here, under 3/25, 9:31 a.m..

Readers may recall that the Arctic Fishery Management Plan (AFMP) adopted in February 2009 by NOAA’s North Pacific Fishery Management Council relied on the precautionary approach in calling for a ban on commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean. The AFMP (draft) defines the precautionary approach as follows:

“The Council’s policy is to proactively apply judicious and responsible fisheries management practices, based on sound scientific research and analysis, to ensure the sustainability of fishery resources, to prevent unregulated fishing, and to protect associated ecosystems for the benefit of current users and future generations. For the past 30 years, the Council’s management policy for Alaska fisheries has incorporated forward-looking conservation measures that address differing levels of uncertainty.”

The NPFMC is one of eight NOAA regional fisheries councils established under the Magnuson Fishery and Conservation Act of 1976. The Council oversees the 900,000 square miles of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone off of Alaska.

Thanks to two D.C. based sources for highlighting these activities of the U.S. House of Representatives and its members: Caitlyn Antrim in her Ocean Law Daily and Diane Derby, Communications Director of Georgetown Law’s State-Federal Climate Resource Center.

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.