NORTHPORT, Maine — The United States needs to take a more active leadership role in the Arctic, U.S. Sen. Angus King said Friday, adding that Maine could benefit by becoming the eastern gateway to the far north.
“I think this is an enormously important part of the future,” the senator said at a meeting of the Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations at Point Lookout. “The Arctic is important — it’s part of the larger area of climate change. It’s also important to Maine.”
King, a founding co-chair of the Senate Arctic Caucus, earlier this year announced that the U.S. State Department has tapped Portland to host a meeting of the Arctic Council in 2016. That meeting, slated for next October, is expected to include up to 250 senior officials, including Arctic experts and possibly heads of state. The Arctic Caucus, founded in March, is designed to spotlight the Arctic and open up a bigger conversation about America’s future in the region.
King said Friday that Eastport would be the closest deep water American port east of a future northwest passage leading from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
In order to have the necessary infrastructure in place to be part of that kind of far-north shipping, King said the country must build more icebreakers, vessels that could cost $1 billion apiece.
“They’re expensive,” he said. “But we need to have the icebreaker capacity. This has to be part of national policy. [Without them,] it’s like saying we want to develop Maine, but we don’t want to build any roads.”
When a forum member asked if Bath Iron Works might be able to do some of the work to build the icebreakers, the senator said he thought it could be possible.
But having a strong national policy in regard to the Arctic is not going to be an easy task, King said, answering several questions about the perceived dysfunction in the U.S. Senate. He said the United States has yet to sign onto the Law of the Sea Treaty, which the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously recommended in 2004. The treaty establishes economic principles and jurisdictional limits on the ocean area that countries may claim, according to the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty Information Center.
“There’s an attitude in the senate among some people that treaties are an abrogation [cancellation] of U.S. sovereignty,” he said. “I’m puzzled by that. It puts us on the sidelines.”
Instead of the sidelines, he’d like to see America actively researching the science of how fast the polar ice cap is melting and discovering if there is any way to slow it down. King did say that for the last few months in the Senate, he’s had the feeling that there is a little more political consensus on climate change.
“There’s a sense that the edifice of denial is crumbling,” he said. “We’re finally getting to a place where we can say climate change is happening … what we’re talking about is the science. To me, it’s logical to argue about what’s the answer. I can see arguing about the policy questions. But I can’t see arguing about data.”