Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015by Representative Peter A. DeFazio
Posted on 2015-12-10
DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding.
I want to congratulate Chairman Hunter, Ranking Member Garamendi, and talk just briefly about how important this legislation is.
The Coast Guard, first off, is now going to get 2 years of budget certainty. That has been a real problem. It is pretty hard to run a military organization that large on something that creates short-term uncertainty with your budget, particularly when they have to begin to plan for acquiring more major assets with larger ships.
In particular, we have just been talking about the icebreakers. I went up to Seattle to visit the Polar Sea in its decrepitude. But the interesting thing I found is that it is an absolutely unique hull design. The ice band contains materials that are no longer manufactured. They are superior to current technologies.
There is substantial thought that this ship could be renovated using the existing hull with a modern ship, modern engines, and electronics. The ship has now been hulled. The hull is being evaluated, and we are going to do a cost-benefit analysis.
If we were to go down that path--and I believe it will prove to be the best path--then that would provide additional spare parts for its sister ship, which is the only one we have got working, and then would set a template for rehabilitating that ship later.
The Russians have about two dozen icebreakers. Five, I believe, are nuclear powered.
The Chinese are building two large icebreakers. The United States of America is down to one 45-year-old heavy icebreaker, which has an Antarctic mission, which means, for the [[Page H9241]] next 6 months after it comes back, it is in dry dock and being repaired.
We do not have any longer the capability of deploying north and south with heavy icebreakers, despite the fact that the Northwest Passage long dreamed of is about to open.
So for the United States of America maritime power to not have at least two heavy icebreakers, if not a half a dozen, is absolutely absurd, penny-wise, pound-foolish stupidity, on the part of former Congresses. I am glad that this Congress has seen the light and we are beginning to move forward to re-institute that program.
The gentleman from California has been particularly persistent and outspoken about the LORAN-C system. I believe it is absolutely critical that we maintain this infrastructure until we know what alternatives we are going to have. I think it is a critical national security asset.
And then, finally, to the more everyday national security-oriented duties of the Coast Guard in this bill, there is a particular provision that is incredibly important to the State of Oregon and the State of South Carolina and to hundreds of people who make their living on the ocean out of those two ports.
The Port of Newport, mid-coast Oregon, has an air rescue facility. They do half the rescues in the mid-coast. Oregon has extremely cold water year-round. We have some of the roughest bar entrances in the United States, and rescue time is critical in terms of saving lives.
The Coast Guard has been underfunded by Congress, and we are beginning to rectify that. But in a budget-cutting mode last year, with no discussion with anyone, they proposed to close Newport and close Charleston.
Last year, in the omnibus bill at the end of the year, we put in place a 1-year prohibition on the closure. This bill extends the statutory prohibition on closing either of those two stations for 2 years and then puts in place a very different and meaningful process, should they ever wish to think about closing critical air rescue stations in the future.
First, it requires them to develop a program to manage their airframes and learn about and figure about how we are going to replace our helicopter fleets, which are about at the same point as these icebreakers. So they need that plan. They have to develop that.
Then, if they wish to close an individual station, the Secretary of Homeland Security will have to make a number of findings, that it wouldn't jeopardize life and safety and degrade rescue capabilities, a pretty long list.
Then, if the Secretary makes that determination, the Secretary would have to go forward in a public process to take input from those communities.
Then, if the Secretary further decided, after going through that, that this was necessary and prudent and wouldn't jeopardize lives and safety at sea, that future Secretary would have to submit the proposal to the Congress.
So we have effectively safeguarded the Newport and the Charleston stations in this legislation, and I believe we have safeguarded them for all time.
I believe, also, Congress should give the Coast Guard adequate funding so they can replenish and rebuild their air fleet and they don't have to struggle and close stations that they know could potentially lead to loss of life.
So there are many, many things to recommend in this legislation. I would expect Congress to nearly, if not totally, unanimously improve it on this side. And then, hopefully, we can get the Senate to finally act because we need this done by January 1.