Biden-Harris Administration Brings Arctic Policy to the Forefront with Reactivated Steering Committee & New Slate of Research Commissioners
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration took major actions toward protecting and advancing United States’ interests in the Arctic region by reactivating a critical steering committee and adding a slate of dedicated Arctic experts to its team. These actions will strengthen the Administration’s science-based approach to tackling climate change, enhancing the United States’ national and economic security, and fostering coordination – particularly with Indigenous Peoples – in the Arctic region.
Specifically, the Administration is:
- Reactivating the Arctic Executive Steering Committee (AESC), a mechanism to advance U.S. Arctic interests and coordinate Federal actions in the Arctic. The AESC will also facilitate the implementation of the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area, including by standing up the Northern Bering Sea Task Force and Tribal Advisory Council. These structures reinforce collaborative partnerships—particularly with Alaska Native communities—and harness science and Indigenous Knowledge to inform management and policy.
- Hiring Ambassador David Balton as AESC Executive Director and Raychelle Aluaq Daniel as AESC Deputy Director, to ensure that trusted experts are at the helm to lead effective outreach and inclusion in the work of the AESC. As the former Ambassador for Oceans and Fisheries, Balton brings decades of experience in managing U.S. foreign policy issues relating to the Arctic. A Yup’ik who grew up in Tuntutuliak, Alaska, Daniel previously served the Department of the Interior by advancing Tribal climate resilience policy and agency coordination. She brings a wealth of expertise in bridging Indigenous Knowledge and science.
- Appointing six highly qualified, diverse Commissioners to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC), underscoring the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to ensuring that USARC’s focus on scientific research goals and objectives for the Arctic are derived from a broad range of expertise and perspectives. One-third of the appointed Commissioners are Indigenous Peoples, one-half are women, and two-thirds are residents of Alaska. The United States depends upon the USARC Commissioners to provide insightful guidance and rational, unbiased assessments of actions to maintain our position as an Arctic nation guided by science.
The legislation that established the USARC specifies there shall be four Commissioners with academic or research experience, two who bring industry perspectives, and one Indigenous representative. The six Presidentially appointed Commissioners are:
- Ms. Elizabeth “Liz” Qaulluq Cravalho, from Kotzebue, Alaska, currently serves as vice president of lands for NANA, a for-profit Alaska Native corporation located in northwest Alaska. She has served as a member of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission that advises the Alaska Legislature, and brings an industry perspective.
- Mr. David Kennedy, the previous USARC Chair and a national expert in the field of emergency pollution response and development of innovative technology, brings over 50 years of experience and leadership in science, government, environmental management, and development of legislation and national initiatives.
- Dr. Mark Myers brings additional industry expertise through his considerable experience as a North Slope sedimentary and petroleum geologist for the oil and gas industry, the U.S. government, the State of Alaska, and the University of Alaska. He previously served as the 14th director of the U.S. Geological Survey.
- Dr. Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Richter-Menge, is a former senior research civil engineer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory, an expert in ocean and sea-ice science and innovative uses of technology in the Arctic Observing Network and the Submarine Arctic Science Program.
- Dr. Mike Sfraga is a researcher focused on the social, economic, environmental, and security impacts of a changing Arctic geography, the inaugural co-lead of the State Department’s Fulbright Arctic Initiative, and Director of the Polar Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He will serve as the new Chair of the Commission.
- Ms. Deborah Vo, from St. Mary’s on the Lower Yukon River, brings experience as a city manager, tribal administrator, executive director of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, manager of rural energy planning for the state, and a program officer for the Rasmuson Foundation. She brings Indigenous perspectives to the Commission as well as expertise on tribal governance, health care, and community development.
“I’m pleased to welcome the new AESC and USARC leadership because they understand the critical role the Arctic region plays in our nation’s future security and prosperity,” said OSTP Deputy Director for Climate & Environment Dr. Jane Lubchenco. “Whether working to address the climate crisis, implementing policy to keep the region secure, consulting with Indigenous communities, or growing U.S. partnerships in the Arctic, there is no better team to lead this effort.”
These announcements follow the recent release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I Sixth Assessment Report, which makes clear the climate drivers underway, justifying urgent need for greater global action on climate change and the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November. No region in the world has undergone more dramatic climate change than the Arctic, particularly impacting Indigenous Peoples, rural communities, and Alaska residents.
In addition to tackling the climate crisis, the Administration’s new leaders will advance U.S. national security and economic security interests in the Arctic to keep the region secure and stable, and to address emerging issues relating to Arctic shipping, communications, and other economic drivers in the Arctic. USARC Commissioners will also oversee a bold research strategy, based on sound science and Indigenous knowledge, that strives to preserve Arctic cultures, foster wise stewardship and use of natural resources, and understand and adapt to climate change.
Fundamental to every aspect of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Arctic policy is sound science and strong collaboration and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples to ensure that those who are impacted most – and whose ways of life are most threatened by rapidly changing living conditions – have a seat at the table.
“The United States has a wide variety of critical interests in the Arctic, a region that is undergoing profound change on many levels,” said AESC Executive Director Ambassador David Balton. “Our new team will work tirelessly to ensure our nation can pursue those interests in a coordinated and far-sighted manner.”
“The Biden-Harris Administration understands that sound Arctic policy must be shaped by input from Indigenous Peoples and the communities facing the impacts of climate change,” said AESC Deputy Director Raychelle Aluaq Daniel. “I’m proud to join a team that takes seriously its commitment to inclusive, equitable leadership and will do all I can to help advance policy that preserves the Arctic for generations to come.”
“Changes in the Arctic, while they appear distant, impact our national security, climate security, and availability of resources essential to our wellbeing,” said National Academy of Sciences President Dr. Marcia McNutt. “I am very pleased that the White House and OSTP are taking these important steps to develop the best science-based policy for the Arctic incorporating Indigenous Knowledge and international cooperation.”