Begich Bill Strengthens Coast Guard Resources, Capabilities in the Arctic

Strengthening the U.S. Coast Guard’s ability to respond to a changing Arctic, U.S. Senator Mark Begich introduced legislation last Thursday to strengthen icebreaking capabilities, increase vessel tracking capacity and enhance oil spill response and recovery.

Begich is the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee, on Oceans Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard. Begich has repeatedly pressed the Administration to build a new class of polar icebreakers and recently sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to fulfilling the recommendations of the Coast Guard’s High Latitude Study on icebreaker needs.

Begich’s package, the Coast Guard Arctic Preparedness Act, would clarify the Coast Guard’s operations mission to include ice breaking capabilities for the federal government and extend the life of the Coast Guard’s currently idled heavy icebreaker Polar Sea for seven to ten years.

“With the Arctic opening up new opportunities for development and shipping, the Coast Guard needs to be better prepared to support increased activity in the region,” said Begich. “My bill provides the Coast Guard with greater resources, including stronger ice breaking capabilities, vessel tracking and improved oil spill response and recovery abilities. The U.S. is an Arctic nation and it’s time that we commit serious resources to the region and start acting like one.”

The bill would strengthen vessel tracking capabilities and permit the transmission of navigation and safety data, like ice and weather information, to non-federal vessels though the existing Automatic Identification System. Other important provisions in the bill include:

  • Interagency Arctic Fusion Center – Promote sustainable, environmentally-sound Arctic development through strengthened interagency coordination and cooperation; and streamline agency communication and intelligence sharing related to the Arctic;
  • Forward Operating Facilities – Authorize the Coast Guard to construct or lease hangar, berthing, and messing facilities in the Arctic and Bering Sea/Aleutians regions to support Coast Guard operational and maintenance needs;
  • Immediate Notification of Marine Casualties – Require notification of state and tribal governments of marine casualties affecting or potentially affecting their waters within one hour of being reported to the Coast Guard.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington is an original cosponsor of the legislation.