The legislation specifically authorizes three new heavy icebreakers to be homeported in Seattle, plus, for the first time, three new medium icebreakers.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, hailed the legislation as “a giant step forward in recognizing that we are an Arctic nation and we plan to participate in the Northwest Passage.”
Cantwell cited the “proud maritime heritage” of Washington state, with the Coast Guard as an integral part of the community. “If we want ships to pass through the Arctic as other countries do – because it is a cheaper, faster way from Asia to Europe – and we want to have access to that in an untold way, and we want fishing and environmental issues to be addressed, we too need to recognize that we need an icebreaking fleet,” she said.
The legislation approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on July 31 also codifies a number of recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board to reduce the risk of vessel casualties and oil spills and improve vessel traffic safety.
It requires the federal research plan to improve oil spill prevention and response to be updated every 10 years, with mandatory feedback from the National Academy of Sciences to ensure the most up-to-date science is being applied to protect our waters from oil spills.
It also requires research and technology evaluations for all classes of oil, including heavy oils, to ensure the Coast Guard and other agencies have the knowledge and technology needed to clean up tar sands oil.
In support of Coast Guard families, the legislation requires the Coast Guard to create a public strategy to improve leadership development and improve the culture of inclusion and diversity in the Coast Guard, and to create programs and resources to improve access to child care for Coast Guard families.