Looking for edge, Maine plunges into Arctic policy

Sen. King, Gov. LePage and businesses work to set the stage for more trade as warming northern waters allow expanded shipping and potential for the state to be a U.S. gateway.

By Tom Bell

Portland Press Herald

Maine is positioning itself as a player in Arctic politics, which could increase opportunities for Maine’s climate researchers and for businesses in the advanced materials, construction, marine transportation, renewable power and logistics sectors.

Maine’s interest in the Arctic may seem puzzling, considering its location some 1,500 miles south of the Arctic Circle. But the state’s geographic position at the northeast corner of the nation means ships passing through the Arctic reach Maine ports first, said Louie Porta, director of policy for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Oceans North Canada campaign.

As Arctic sea ice continues to melt because of climate change, shipping lanes across the top of the world will become more viable, including potentially the Northwest Passage, a sea route along the northern coast of North America, said Porta, who grew up in Portland and now lives in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

“From the U.S. perspective – as funny as it sounds – Portland is the port of entry to the Northwest Passage and Alaska is the place of exit,” he said.

Maine’s Arctic push comes as the U.S. prepares in April to assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for Arctic states and indigenous people.

Already, Washington, D.C., and some Arctic nations have taken notice. An Arctic Council working group will meet in Portland in September 2016, the first such meeting in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Maine is also under consideration to host a senior Arctic Council meeting that year, which would draw about 200 Arctic leaders and experts from the eight Arctic nations.

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