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WASHINGTON D.C.-Legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich to reauthorize funding for the U.S. Coast Guard, and a second bill to allow NOAA to sell a condemned dock in Ketchikan were passed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation today. Begich is a member of the committee and chairman of the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.
The committee today adopted by voice vote the Coast Guard Authorization Act for 2012 and 2013(S.1665) which reauthorizes funding and personnel levels for the service which plays a key role in the country’s national and homeland security.
“The Coast Guard performs a number of critical missions to the nation such as ensuring marine safety, search and rescue, oil spill response, fishery enforcement and patrols and drug interdiction,” Begich said. “The Coast Guard is one of the most critical agencies for Alaska and I am pleased to see support for its continued strength.”
The bill includes provisions important for Alaska including a study of a deep water port needed to further future Arctic development; fixes funding for the Oil Spill Recovery Institute which has been eroded by inflation over the decades; and honors the Coast Guard’s heritage in Alaska by conveying the decommissioned Cutter STORIS for use as a museum in Juneau. Addressing another need long recognized by Begich, the legislation requires the Coast Guard maintain its current icebreaking capability until new icebreakers can be acquired.
A second bill important to Alaska also passed the committee which allows the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to sell its dock in Ketchikan and use the money to acquire a suitable replacement facility to homeport the NOAA’s vessel Fairweather(S.1307). The old dock has been condemned and is unusable. “This is a relatively small bill but a big one for Ketchikan. It makes fiscal sense by retaining the value of the property for NOAA and ultimately help keep the vessel homeported in Ketchikan, closer to where it works,” Begich said.
Three other bills co sponsored by Begich passed the committee. The Trash Free Seas Act (S.1119) introduced Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) reauthorizes NOAA’s Marine Debris Program to address the problem of plastic and other trash which foul our oceans, threatens fish, seabirds and marine mammals, and even presents a hazard to navigation. NOAA-sponsored cleanup programs have removed millions of pounds of garbage from Alaska’s shore over the past nine years. The bill includes language which recognizes the estimated 20-million ton debris plume generated by the Japanese tsunami earlier this year.
The Pacific Salmon Stronghold Act (S.1401) sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) would strengthen salmon preservation programs by focusing on strongholds of salmon, such as Alaska, in addition to programs which deal with weakened or endangered stocks.
Begich also co sponsored legislation introduced by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) which deals with harmful algae blooms and ocean dead zones (S.1701). Such algae blooms can lead to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning which is blamed for the deaths of two Alaskans in 2010.
Consideration of a key Begich bill to stop the interstate sale of genetically-engineered (GE) fish was delayed because of issues raised by farm state opponents worried about possible implications for GE crops. Begich, who has worked for months to stop GE salmon, says the potential harm from what he calls “Frankenfish” is too great and he remains committed to moving his bill later this month.
“As the world’s largest producer of wild salmon, the economic well-being of Alaska coastal communities is on the line,” Begich said. “In addition to the threats of wild stock contamination to public health, this is an economic risk we have no reason to take. It’s time Congress says no to Frankenfish.”
Begich’s Prevention of the Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States Act (S.1717)would ban the interstate commerce of genetically-engineered (GE) salmon. GE salmon, which the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing, poses a threat to the environment if they’re accidentally released or set loose. Begich said he will meet with opponents, hold a hearing on the matter, and work toward an expected markup in December.
The Committee also approved bills to reauthorize the U.S. Maritime Administration, reauthorize a program to fund sport fish restoration and boating enhancement and safety programs, and facilitate the upcoming America’s Cup race series. The bills all now advance for later floor action by the full U.S. Senate.