The United States is an Arctic nation because of Alaska. It's a time of great change in the region. The implications of those changes on the lives of the local residents -- not to mention our national security and economical and environmental interests -- demand that greater attention be focused on the region.
I have been an unwavering proponent of Arctic issues since joining the Senate in 2002. I represent the United States on the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region and I am a leading voice on the strategic importance of the Arctic region.
Interest in the Arctic, by the general public, the media, and Arctic and non-Arctic nations, continues to grow. The attention is primarily due to the impacts of climate change and subsequent loss of seasonal sea ice, and interest in shipping lanes, energy and natural resources.
The impacts of the changing Arctic are being felt dramatically by the residents who are legitimately concerned about the effects that an ice-diminished Arctic will have on their way of life. Many of the indigenous people of the region still live a subsistence lifestyle. I have been working to advocate on behalf of the residents of the region and ensuring they have a voice in the political process.
One of the major challenges we face is our aging icebreaker fleet. The United States has only one operating heavy icebreaker, the Polar Sea, and one light icebreaker/research vessel, the Healy. I was able to get an appropriation to refurbish another heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, last year, and fund the U.S. Coast Guard to do a study to determine whether we need to rebuild or replace our polar class vessels. Regardless of the result of the study, we must have the commitment of the administration and Congress that icebreakers are a national priority.
I have introduced three Arctic bills in the 111th Congress. One would implement some of the recommendations of the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, including the authorization of a study to determine and develop the necessary infrastructure to support increased Arctic maritime transportation. The legislation also authorizes the construction of two new heavy icebreakers to replace the aging Polar Sea and Polar Star.
A second bill would amend the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act to authorize funding to get data and services to the Arctic for safe navigation, delineate the United States' extended continental shelf and monitor coastal changes.
The third bill would direct the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to study the feasibility, location and resource needs for an Arctic deep water port. This study would determine whether it's in our nation's strategic interest to build a port and where it might be located. A deep water port would not only serve our military and Coast Guard needs, but as we develop our offshore oil and gas reserves and see more shipping, tourism and vessel traffic in the Arctic, a deep water port could provide a crucial base of operations.
We must also ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty to ensure that we have a seat at the table to protect our interests and future subsea resource discoveries. As the only Arctic nation not a party to the treaty, the failure to ratify continues to keep the United States at a disadvantage internationally and outside the process. Without ratifying the treaty, we risk having Russia and Canada claim what is rightfully America's.