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Public Statements

Coast Guard Reauthorization

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I rise to say what an important day it is for the U.S. Coast Guard. Our communities benefit from the services provided by the men and women who have answered the call to serve. The reason I say that is because we have passed a bill that gives 43,000 Active-Duty Coast Guard members the support they need.

It is a worthy tribute to a force of men and women who in 2011 alone saved 3,800 lives across the United States, confiscated 166,000 pounds of cocaine, and secured over 472,000 vessels before they arrived at our ports. This will give the Coast Guard the funds it needs to upgrade equipment and purchase the right vessels for carrying out every mission.

This kind of work exemplifies the heroes such as CPO Terrell Horne of California. Officer Horne died in the line of duty last week while chasing down drug smugglers off the coast of California. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and the Coast Guard.

His actions and service remind us of the dangerous tasks the men and women of the Coast Guard do on a daily basis, and that is why it was so important that we passed this reauthorization bill.

We could not have done this reauthorization without the many hours Senator Begich put in to help get it across the finish line. He knows how important the Coast Guard is to the men and women in the Pacific Northwest and to my State, Washington.

The Coast Guard is part of our maritime culture in the Pacific Northwest, and this bill helps the Coast Guard watch over our people, our businesses, and protect our coastline.

I would like to expound on three provisions that were particularly helpful for us in the Northwest. One, this legislation helps to protect the Polar Sea, an icebreaker based in Seattle; two, it helps us clean up tsunami debris that is already hitting the west coast; and three, it analyzes the potential risk of tar sands supertankers, tankers and barges in our waters off Washington State.

In October of this year, I visited Vigor Shipyards in Seattle where our heavy-duty icebreaker fleet is currently serviced. These ships are a testament to American shipbuilding prowess and ingenuity, and, inspecting them up close, we can see they are the most critical tool for the United States in our economic security and national security in the Arctic. We see that building icebreakers means jobs to Washington State, and that is why in this final package, the importance of these ships--the Polar Sea in particular was prioritized. The Polar Sea was in danger of being scrapped before we passed this bill.

There is no denying that we need to build a new icebreaker fleet for our Arctic economic future, and for the Coast Guard and Navy Arctic missions. But, these specialized vessels will take up to 10 years to build. In the meantime, we want to make sure U.S. companies can continue to develop business in the Arctic and keep U.S. Arctic operations running. It is very fitting that the icebreakers that work fine now are not dismantled.

This legislation prevents the Polar Sea from being scrapped and helps us protect the resources we need to serve interests in the Arctic. This bill stipulates that we won't scrap our current icebreakers if it is more cost-effective to keep them, and it will make sure our icebreakers are seaworthy so the crews don't go out on faulty equipment. These ships won't go away unless it can be proven that it makes financial sense to replace them.

Last January, the world watched as the Healy icebreaker successfully cut through a path in the Arctic Sea to deliver fuel to Nome, AK. The Healy is primarily a research vessel but was forced to do the job because our two heavy-duty icebreakers were not currently in active status; they were being repaired.

This bill also ensures that the Polar icebreaking fleet will continue to be based in Seattle. Refurbishing a large icebreaker, such as the Polar Sea, can take roughly 5 years and employ 300 workers. For us, this means shipbuilding jobs, it means an impact in keeping smaller shipyards in Washington State busy, and it means keeping icebreakers that help save places such as Nome, AK, by cutting paths through the ice.

However, that is not the only thing in this legislation that I am proud we got a decision on. Our economy in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii has been threatened by hundreds of thousands of tons of debris washing ashore as a result of the tragic tsunami in Japan nearly 2 years ago.

That is why this legislation asks NOAA to take a closer look at tsunami debris and makes sure we are putting an accurate assessment in place to protect the west coast. If NOAA decides tsunami debris is a severe marine debris event, then they will need to present a specific coordination plan developed to meet that threat. And they will need to work with local governments, counties, and tribes to ensure there is a coordinated effort to protect our economy and environment from tsunami debris. In the Northwest we have already seen ships, docks, and various other forms of debris float ashore. Oftentimes, our local communities have had to pay more than their share of the burden and expense of cleaning up the tsunami debris.

With over 165,000 jobs and nearly $11 billion in our coastal economy from fishing, to tourism, to various activities, we want to make sure that tsunami debris does not hurt our coastal economies. All we need to do is ask the mayor of Long Beach, who said, ``An uncoordinated or unmanaged response to this debris event is a blow that Long Beach and the Columbia-Pacific region cannot endure.'' This is about getting a plan in place for local communities to coordinate, to have opportunities to work together, and to remove debris as cost-effectively as possible.

Third, this legislation has important language protecting Washington waterways in very precious parts of the Pacific Northwest. Recently, Canada announced that over the next decade they would double the production of the Alberta tar sands oilfields. Today, fifteen billion gallons of oil is already shipped through Washington waters. A spill in a heavily populated area, around the San Juan Islands or in the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca could cause billions of dollars of damage and harm businesses throughout the region. The response cannot be, especially if the spill occurs in Canadian waters, don't worry, just call the Americans.

I am proud this legislation looks at the potential threat caused by supertankers and whether they are equipped to respond to a spill that could occur from corrosive tar sand oil. Thanks to this legislation, the Coast Guard will have to prepare a study that will analyze how much vessel traffic will increase in the region due to the proposed increase in tar sands oil production and transportation, whether the movement of tar sands oil would require navigating through our fragile waters, it would look at the oil spill response plans and response capability in the U.S. and Canada's shared waters, identify the tools needed to clean up this kind of an oil spill and estimate the cost and benefits to the American public of moving this oil through our waterways. And, this assessment has to be completed in 180 days.

I want to make sure our fishing fleets, our restaurants, our resort economy, and everything that is so important to us in the Northwest, is protected.

This legislation is good news for coastal communities, for jobs in Washington State and across our country, and I wish to thank both the chair and the ranking member of the subcommittee and full committee for making sure we have given the Coast Guard the resources it needs to protect our economy, keep our public safe, and protect our environment. We have much more work to do, but in a Congress that is down to its waning days, it is important that this legislation has seen action and is on its way to the President's desk.

I thank the President, and I yield the floor.

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