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Testifying Before the Senate on the Dangers of Increased Arctic Shipping

Public hearing focuses attention on protecting Arctic marine environment

Andrew Hartsig Testifying
© Emily Brauner

The Arctic is warming two times faster than the rest of the planet, which is reducing seasonal ice cover and opening the region to increasing ship traffic. This growth in vessel traffic creates a lot of risks. I was honored to testify yesterday before the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard, where I talked about the importance of protecting our marine environment from those risks.

Our Arctic coasts are home to indigenous peoples whose ways of life, cultures and economies are inextricably linked to the ocean. Arctic waters are also home to an amazing abundance of marine mammals, fish and birds. At the same, the Arctic Ocean is remote and subject to severe weather, which can make it challenging—and at times impossible—to respond to incidents like oil spills from vessels.

Fortunately, we can take action to protect northern communities and the marine environment with Arctic-appropriate shipping measures. Prevention of accidents should be our highest priority, but we should also focus on improving our ability to respond to oil spills that do occur. In my testimony to the Senate subcommittee, I highlighted a few concrete steps we can take:

  • We can ensure that vessels travel along predictable routes in waters that are free of navigational hazards.
  • We can put in place stringent regulations on harmful discharges.
  • We can make sure that the Arctic is equipped with sufficient equipment to respond to disasters—and that the equipment can be quickly mobilized to the site of an oil spill.
  • We can invest in updated charting for Arctic waters. Right now, less than 2% of the Arctic has been charted to modern standards, and lack of up-to-date charts has been a factor in recent vessel groundings in the region.
  • We can ensure that the Coast Guard has resources to send personnel and equipment to the Arctic region.
  • We can ramp up investments in icebreakers, which are needed for research, law enforcement, search and rescue missions, environmental protection and spill response.
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I commend the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee for bringing attention to this critical issue. Going forward, I hope Congress will work to ensure government agencies have the funding they need to put in place measures like these, which will help safeguard Arctic waters and communities from the impacts of increasing vessel traffic.

The management decisions that we make today will shape the Arctic of future generations. Together with scientists, governments, businesses and YOU—we can advocate for these real solutions that will protect the Arctic marine environment and the communities that depend on it.

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