BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. LoBIONDO. Madam Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I would like to begin by thanking Mr. Oberstar, Mr. Mica and Mr. Cummings. I think the model that this subcommittee works with could be an example for the entire Congress, the bipartisan nature in which we proceed. The opinions and ideas of all are respected and acted upon, and that is reflected in H.R. 3619, this Coast Guard Authorization Act.
However, I do have some serious concerns about a few matters--Mr. Mica touched on some of them--in the underlying bill, and some others that are being proposed in the manager's amendment. I hope the chairmen of the committee and the subcommittee will work with Ranking Member Mica and myself to address these concerns, if they are not cleared up today, as we move forward to a conference bill with the Senate.
This bill has been a long time in coming, as has been noted by Mr. Mica and Mr. Oberstar and Mr. Cummings. We have worked on many of these provisions starting in the 109th Congress. Over that time, the absence of an authorization bill has had a real and negative impact on the Coast Guard.
Let me just stop for a minute and say I think we should all take a step back and recognize the tremendous job that the men and women of the Coast Guard have been doing, are doing, and will continue to do. They are true unsung heroes. They put themselves in harm's way, whether it is on a drug interdiction mission, whether it is in search and rescue, whether it is maritime antiterrorism, or in the global war on terrorism, which they have also been involved in.
We owe them a great debt of gratitude. We should continue to recognize the many sacrifices they are making on behalf of our country. I thank Admiral Allen and the leadership team, but especially the men and women of the Coast Guard.
But to carry on with my statement, despite the addition of several new missions and focus areas, the service has been capped at an end-strength number that has not been increased since 2004. The lack of an authorization bill has also prevented the Coast Guard from moving forward with a planned reorganization of its senior staff, from receiving expedited hiring authorities to bolster its acquisition staff--something that is desperately needed in this time when they are replacing assets--and from exercising strengthened authorities to apprehend and prosecute alien smugglers by sea. The smugglers continue to try to improve their methods and the Coast Guard continues to respond. These are vital tools we are giving them with this authorization legislation.
This is an important bill, and I only hope our action this week will provoke an equal and prompt response from our counterparts in the United States Senate. We sometimes joke about it, we sometimes talk about it, but our ability to act on this side on an important measure like this should be followed up with the Senate. This is not the naming of a post office. There are literally lives that can be at stake here, and I hope the counterparts in the Senate will understand the severity of dealing with this in a timely manner.
In addition to authorizing much-needed funding for the Coast Guard in the coming fiscal year, the bill includes several important provisions which will improve the organization and capabilities of the Coast Guard. Under the bill, Coast Guard officers will enjoy improved flexibility to specialize in high-need mission areas without fear that they will be passed over for promotion in the process, something that is not true today.
The bill also includes the Coast Guard's proposed reorganization of its senior command structure, which will improve overall coordination of personnel, resources and capabilities to carry out all of their missions. This is increasingly important because of the needed flexibility of the changing of the mission, of the changing of the threat that the Coast Guard is protecting against, and this will be a vital component that will help them do their job.
H.R. 3619 also includes bipartisan language to overhaul the Coast Guard's acquisition program, something that Chairman Oberstar, Chairman CUMMINGS and Ranking Member Mica have worked on very closely, to make sure that we can fine-tune this and make it much better as they recapitalize their major assets through the Deepwater program.
On balance, this is a very good bill, but it does include some provisions that need to be improved prior to enactment or signing by the President.
The bill continues to include language that would place unnecessary barriers in the way of approving and operating facilities that receive important energy and agricultural resources. While I understand this provision will be amended by the manager's amendment, we should look closely at whether the manager's amendment, the language therein, really improves the security, or merely sets up additional regulatory hurdles to the use of domestic energy resources, something that I don't think our country can afford.
I am likewise concerned with the proposal in the manager's amendment which would weaken language which was adopted on a bipartisan basis in the committee to provide protection from liability for vessel owners, operators, captains and crewmembers who take action to defend themselves from a pirate attack.
I want to spend just a couple more minutes talking about this. While I have an amendment on it, I think Mr. Oberstar, Mr. Mica and Mr. Cummings were very thorough in helping us work out the language in a bipartisan way to deal with this liability issue with the pirates.
I had an opportunity at the end of August and beginning of September to visit the East Coast of Africa and to visit a Navy SEAL team on the Manda Bay, which is in Kenya, just across from Somalia where the pirates are doing most of their activities.
Our SEAL team is training Kenyans. They are doing a magnificent job, but they pointed out that the threat is very real and the pirates, because of some successes, are expected to pick up their activity. Little did we realize that this activity was going to pick up today.
For those who did not hear my remarks earlier during the debate on the rule, we had two pirate attacks today. One pirate attack took 26 hostages, took them from a Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel, as I understand it, something that gives us all great concern. There was another attack on an Italian ship. Fortunately, there was a Belgian warship that was close enough to be able to get involved and thwart that effort.
An attack on a U.S. flag vessel happened barely 6 months ago. We all watched with great anxiety how our very heroic captain and crew of a U.S.-flagged vessel conducted themselves and the heroics of a Navy SEAL team to save the lives of Americans.
The language that was worked out that was in the underlying bill, before the majority on the Judiciary Committee decided to change this, was something that will work, that will give the protection from liability to our crewmembers that they need.
The language that was put in the manager's amendment by the Judiciary Committee will set up a legal tangle and a horrific situation for a crewmember trying to thwart an attack by pirates who may be firing upon them with automatic weapons or grenade launchers. Whatever the
ammunition and firepower they have, this crewmember has to go through a legal tangle in their mind of five, six or seven things to understand what they can and can't do. This is an attack on U.S. interests. So I hope Members pay particular attention to the piracy amendment as we move forward with that.
Lastly, I am concerned with our inability to include language that would establish uniform national standards for vessel discharges, including ballast water. I have spoken on numerous occasions with Mr. Oberstar, and I want to take particular note to thank Mr. Oberstar once again for his keen interest in solving this problem and bringing so many interested parties to the table. I know that Mr. Oberstar shares my concerns and that of many of my colleagues, both on the committee and in Congress, to address this issue through legislation this year. I thank him for his offer to work with us, and I look forward to bringing the bill to the floor in the very near future.
I plan to support the bill, even though I have a few reservations. I think it is a very important piece of legislation that we need to move forward, and I hope we will continue to improve the bill as we move through the process with amendments made in order today and as we move in a conference with the Senate. But I will continue to urge all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this legislation. It's good for the Coast Guard and it's good for America.
I reserve the balance of my time.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. LoBIONDO. On balance, this amendment does more good than harm, and for that reason, as I mentioned, I will not oppose the amendment or the adoption thereof.
I do, however, want to raise several concerns I have with the amendment. The amendment before us now overhauls several important provisions that passed with wide bipartisan support in the committee. The language was added despite the continued objections of the minority.
The manager's amendment rewrites language that would confer protections against liability for U.S. mariners that act in self-defense against a pirate attack on U.S.-flagged vessels. We have all read the accounts on the attacks of the Maersk Alabama and the Liberty Sun. Do we really want future mariners to hesitate in the face of a pirate armed with automatic weapons while they determine whether or not their actions will be deemed by a court reasonable with a check-off list in their minds as an attack is taking place? I don't think so
And with the two pirate attacks today, while they weren't U.S.-flagged vessels, they could have been, and we certainly don't want to have that kind of a situation.
So I strongly oppose this section of the amendment. And a little bit later in the debate, I'll offer an amendment to replace the language with the bipartisan agreement that we worked out within our committee.
I want to once again thank Chairman Oberstar for his acceptance of the language that would extend an existing exemption for fishing vessels and small commercial vessels from complying with certain vessel discharge requirements. This action will allow this segment to continue operations while Environmental Protection Agency surveys the magnitude of discharges from the vessels and whether regulations are necessary.
And I very much appreciate the chairman's commitment to continue to work with us on the goal of setting a single national standard, which makes the most sense of all, to regulate the discharge of ballast water and other incidental discharges from vessels.
It simply is unacceptable to require our maritime sector to comply with two Federal standards and with as many as 30 different State standards and, often, conflicting State standards for vessel discharges. So it is a situation, I think, we are all looking forward to trying to solve.
I also want to thank, once again, Chairman Oberstar for improving language regarding the security of the vessels and of the facilities handling certain dangerous cargos. While I still believe too much of this provision is unnecessary and duplicative to current requirements under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, the language, Mr. Chairman, is a very marked improvement over the committee-reported amendment, and I thank you for your consideration.
I also thank Chairman Oberstar for his willingness to work with us on a variety of issues that we have encompassed in this bill, and I look forward to further consultation as the bill moves further down the line to enactment.
I reserve the balance of my time.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT