WASHINGTON - The Obama administration Friday released a national strategy for the Arctic in advance of Secretary of State John Kerry's trip this week to Sweden to attend a conference of eight polar nations.
In the policy, the White House outlines its approach to key Arctic issues, even as it acknowledges that there are conflicting - and even contradictory - goals and challenges as rapidly melting sea ice makes the region more accessible. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other regions of the Earth.
"Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region for the economic opportunities it presents and in recognition of the need to protect and conserve this unique, valuable and changing environment," Obama said in the opening page of the strategy, released in advance of Wednesday's Arctic Council meeting.
Some of the potential economic opportunities include the possibility of additional oil and gas exploration, new fishing territory, and increased transit through previously inaccessible oceans, and even tourism.
But they come as the United States has to grapple with the question of how much the oil and gas extraction will contribute to the very conditions that are opening the Arctic to more exploration. The president's Arctic strategy came out even as scientists recorded the highest-ever daily mean concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere.
The White House said the U.S. approach to Arctic matters includes responding to emerging opportunities while simultaneously protecting and conserving a unique environment. Its strategy also recognizes that an undisciplined approach to exploring new opportunities could harm the region as well as threaten national security interests and the global good.
Environmental organizations that monitor the Arctic say Obama's policy lacks muscle. They are worried in particular about whether the Arctic Council will be more aggressive in its policies on short-term pollutants, including diesel emissions, that help accelerate sea ice melt in the Arctic.
In Sweden, Kerry, along with representatives from other polar nations, will sign an agreement to cooperate on marine oil pollution preparedness and response. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) will join him.