Ulmer tabbed as special adviser on Arctic issues

Alaska will be represented by one of its own as the nation pushes ahead with Arctic policy development and planning. It was announced Wednesday that Fran Ulmer has been appointed as a special adviser to the Secretary of State.

While she describes the role as a “slight expansion” of her current duties as chairwoman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, it could have big ramifications for Alaska as America is poised to assume the chairmanship of the international Arctic Council next year.

“Hopefully we’ll get a number of the meetings of the Arctic Council and the associated working groups here in Alaska,” she told the Juneau Empire in a phone interview.

The specifics of the position will be determined during a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry, Ulmer and former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp, appointed as the U.S. Special Representative to the Arctic along with Ulmer.

“The general idea is to provide additional insight to folks in the State Department,” said Ulmer, a former Alaska lieutenant governor. She added that she expects her technical expertise about the Arctic to be leaned on while she advises the government on “Arctic issues from an Alaska perspective, and also from a science and research perspective.”

Ulmer served as chair of the Arctic Research Commission since President Barack Obama appointed her in 2011. She will continue that work while advising the Secretary of State.

“As chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, Fran Ulmer is arguably the most knowledgeable Alaskan about the Arctic and will be an invaluable adviser to Secretary (John) Kerry, the President and other top officials on Arctic issues,” Begich said. “I know all Alaskans join me in praising her special appointment.”

Ulmer said she will continue to be based in Alaska, and that the position is a “part-time” role that will expand her involvement with the administration’s decision-making processes on Arctic issues.

“(It’s) slightly broader than just the science and research pieces,” Ulmer said. “(I will) serve with the Arctic development aspects and the planning of Arctic policy as well.”

Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, and Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, co-chairs of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, praised the appointments Wednesday. During the 2014 Legislature, the need for strong Alaska and American representation to the Arctic Council ahead of the United States’ chairmanship next year was often discussed and emphasized.

“Having such an intelligent, well-spoken and experienced Alaskan named to a new position as Arctic science adviser is a perfect fit for us. Fran serves quite capably as an ex-officio on the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, and is obviously well-versed in all issues Arctic, especially those related to research,” Herron said.

McGuire highlighted the Arctic’s potential to impact the state economy in addition to the national interest in the region.

“With the United States behind other countries in Arctic development, it is great to see Washington making steps in the right direction — north,” McGuire said. “Alongside the commercialization of our North Slope gas and our oil industry, the Arctic is the third leg of the stool that will be the future of our state. We are happy to see two people on the federal level that can help us advance our interests.”

Alaska’s lone representative to the House of Representatives also weighed in on the appointments, saying Papp’s appointment makes sense for the country.

“I have proudly worked with Admiral Papp for years on behalf of Alaska and the Arctic during his time as Coast Guard Commandant and welcome him to the job with open arms,” Young said in a release. “I believe he holds the know-how and understanding to begin making headway on these vital American issues, especially as we prepare to take over the Arctic Council chairmanship in 2015.”

Ulmer echoed the thoughts of the political leaders who interpreted the appointments as a sign that Washington has noticed the new arena of Arctic policy and potential on the state, national and global levels.

“(The Arctic) is evolving now as an issue that people in Washington, D.C., are taking notice of now more than ever,” Ulmer said. “And that’s a very good thing.”

Matt Woolbright is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.

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