By Heather McFarland
International Arctic Research Center researcher and retired U.S. Coast Guard captain, Dr. Lawson Brigham, testified to Congress during the Maritime Transportation in the Arctic hearing this week.
Brigham was called to testify on June 7 as part of the committee hearing addressing the United States’ lack of adequate infrastructure, research, and preparedness to accommodate increased maritime transportation into rapidly opening Arctic waters.
“No discussion on this topic can be made without review of the Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment,” said Brigham.
Brigham referred to the three main themes of the assessment during his testimony: enhancing Arctic marine safety; protecting Arctic people and the environment; and, building the Arctic marine infrastructure.
Marine infrastructure needs that limit safe navigation and protection of the environment were a priority among all six testimonies. Brigham told the hearing that with the exception of the coasts of Iceland, northern Norway, and northwest Russia, Arctic infrastructure that supports search and rescue presence as well as environmental response and monitoring are lacking.
Brigham also emphasized the sizable gap in our understanding of Arctic waters, “only 4.7 percent of maritime Arctic is charted to modern international standards.”
The testimonies ended with strong consensus among congressmen that policies need to address changing Arctic conditions and the implications of increased vessel movement through the Bering Strait into polar waters.
Congressman John Garamendi suggested that $1 billion of the $717 billion Department of Defense budget be allocated to the Arctic this year. In his proposition, Garamendi, postulated $50 million of that amount be set aside for research. To make that happen, he urged Brigham and the other five witnesses to put forth recommendations of the funding, personnel, and equipment needed to prepare for the future Arctic.
The six Arctic experts were encouraged to continue offering expertise to the congressional committee as an Arctic strategy is developed. “If Congress writes a plan without your input we are going to screw it up,” said congressman Don Young.