BRUNSWICK, Maine — As climate change opens new shipping lanes, Maine is uniquely positioned to become a major player in the Arctic and Portland is poised to host the next meeting of the Arctic Council, Sen. Angus King wrote Wednesday to Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Maine has turned its gaze North,” King, I-Maine, wrote to Kerry. “From our political leaders to our private sector, we understand the importance of a changing Arctic.”
In April, King flew with Kerry and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to Iqaluit, Canada, as the United States formally assumed its two-year tenure as chairman of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum that promotes cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states and responsible development of the region. The council is made up of the eight Arctic states — Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States — with six indigenous “Permanent Participant” leaders.
King told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that as soon as he saw maps of ships coming to Maine through the Arctic, he began working with officials at the International Trade Center to secure Portland as a future host of the meetings, which occur every two years. The U.S. State Department sent a team to Portland earlier this month to investigate the possibility, according to the senator.
The next meeting is scheduled for October 2016 and would draw about 200 senior Arctic officials, according to the Nunatsiaq News.
“It’s a new frontier,” King said Tuesday. “It’s as if the Mediterranean Sea had just been discovered. It’s a large body of water with eight neighboring nations.”
King, who helped found an Arctic Caucus in the U.S. Senate, wrote Wednesday that Maine already has started to respond to rapid climate changes in the Arctic and is uniquely positioned to become an eastern gateway to the Arctic for commercial, cultural and educational exchanges.
Maine’s interest in the Arctic dates to 1909, when Bowdoin College graduate Robert Peary was the first person to reach the North Pole. More recently, Icelandic shipping company Eimskip relocated to Portland in 2013.
Hosting an Arctic Council meeting would only expand the possibilities for cooperation between Maine and other Arctic nations, King wrote, and would help expand understanding of the Arctic Circle.
Russia holds a stronger naval presence in the Arctic, with 17 icebreakers — “the roadbuilder of the Arctic Ocean,” King said — to the United States’ one. But he said investment by the United States could make the country a leader in Arctic shipping.
“It’s 20 days shorter to get from Asia if you go through the top than through the Panama Canal,” King said. “It will probably be at least a decade before it’s possible on a routine basis, but we have to make investments.”
Maine’s bid to host the Arctic Council meeting has drawn some resistance, with Alaska’s president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council telling the Nunatsiaq News, “I don’t like the idea of meeting outside of Alaska. Actually, I didn’t like the idea of meeting outside of the Arctic, i.e., Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau.”
Landing the meeting is not a sure thing, King acknowledged Tuesday, but, he added, “it sure would be a nice plus for Maine.”