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Coast Guard Authorization - 2003

Location: Washington, DC

PAGE S3451
March 31, 2004

Coast Guard Authorization - 2003

(At the request of Mr. DASCHLE, the following statement was ordered to be printed in the RECORD.)

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, the Coast Guard Authorization Act authorizes nearly $15 billion in funding for the Coast Guard to carry out its mission for 2 years. This represents a significant increase in funding over previous years, and will go far to support an agency that has both civilian and homeland security responsibilities. The bill also includes funding for the Deepwater program, funding for port security measures, provisions aimed at preventing oil spills and helping fishermen, and protections for marine resources.

Let me begin by discussing the authorization included in the bill. The fiscal year 2005 budget authorization is 4 percent higher than what the President has requested. This difference represents $327 million, and the authorization itself is a $700 million increase over what the Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year. The funding increases in the bill will help the Coast Guard meet all of its missions. The Coast Guard has stretched its resources dramatically since September 11, and traditional missions such as enforcement of fishing and marine resource laws as well as search and rescue missions are still below pre-September 11 levels.

This legislation includes over $700 million for both fiscal year 2004 and fiscal year 2005 for the Coast Guard's Deepwater program, well over the $500 million in fiscal year 2004 and the $678 million in fiscal year 2005 requested by the President. Deepwater is an important program that will allow the Coast Guard to purchase new ships, planes, and navigation equipment and integrate those resources into its existing infrastructure.

This legislation also addresses security at our ports. Unfortunately, many of our Nation's ports and waterways remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Implementation of the Maritime Transportation Security Act is expected to take years. Therefore, it is important that the Coast Guard, the main Federal agency charged with port security, have adequate resources to meet current homeland security responsibilities. The bill includes $70 million to assess port security plans as well as $100 million for expenses that the Coast Guard incurs when the Government issues homeland security alerts. The bill also authorizes $36 million for three new maritime safety and security teams, MSSTs. The MSSTs have already become a vital security force for many of the Nation's busiest ports. Major port cities such as New York, Boston, and Los Angeles have benefitted from the deployment of MSSTs, and I am pleased that this legislation will allow other ports to receive the same level of protection. The bill also includes $40 million for the automatic identification system, AIS. Mandated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act, the AIS will allow the Coast Guard to track and monitor certain vessels that could pose a threat to port security. It is essential that this system operates at full capacity. The fiscal year 2005 authorizations include an overall 10-percent increase for operating expenses and general capital costs to ensure that port security priorities continue to be funded at appropriate levels.

I am pleased that the bill includes a number of environmental provisions, aid for fishermen affected by oilspills, and protections for living marine resources. In response to last year's oilspill in Buzzards Bay, MA, we included in this bill a provision that requires the Coast Guard to study the feasibility of speeding up the deadline for companies to start using double-hull tankers to transport oil. Also in the bill is a mandate for the Coast Guard to issue a report outlining the cost and benefits of requiring vessels to have electronic navigational equipment on board. In addition, to ameliorate the effects of oilspills on fishermen, we added language to the bill that will allow fishermen to receive loans from the oilspill liability trust funding during the period immediately following an oilspill.

The bill also addresses the issue of ship strikes of one of the most endangered whales in the world-the North Atlantic right whale. There are only about 300 individuals left in this entire species, and ship strikes are the No. 1 cause of mortality. While lobstermen and other fishermen in the Northeast have shouldered significant regulatory requirements to avoid entanglement of these whales in fishing gear, no actions have been taken to address the risks from ship strikes. The bill would require the Coast Guard to undertake studies to examine options for minimizing vessel strikes of North Atlantic right whales in accessing ports where this is an issue. In addition to these studies, the bill would require the Coast Guard to submit a report to Congress on the effectiveness and costs of such measures.

In conclusion, we have crafted a balanced bill that will benefit the Coast Guard and enhance our domestic security. The Congress has a responsibility to oversee the Coast guard and provide it with direction and resources. With this bill, we have met that responsibility. I urge my colleagues to support it. Mr. President, I would like to acknowledge the hard work of Senator MCCAIN, Senator HOLLINGS, and Senator SNOWE in helping to draft this legislation. I respect and appreciate their dedication to these issues. Thank you.·

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