Commerce Committee Prioritizes New Icebreaker, Passes Sullivan-Cantwell Provision

Contributed by the Office of U.S Senator Dan Sullivan

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) today thanked fellow members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation for approving the Polar Icebreaker Fleet Recapitalization Transparency Act, legislation that seeks to expedite the recapitalization of the U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaking fleet. Senator Sullivan and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) offered the bill as an amendment to S. 2829, the Maritime Administration Authorization and Enhancement Act.

The amendment authorizes the U.S. Coast Guard to enter into contracts for advanced procurement for an icebreaker, and also requires the Coast Guard to undertake a fleet recapitalization plan. Finally, the amendment requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on the state of the United States’ icebreaking fleet.

“The United States continues to be late to the game on the urgent need for an expanded fleet of Coast Guard icebreakers,” said Senator Sullivan. “As a supporter of an all-of-the-above strategy to rebuild America’s icebreaking capacity, I thank my colleagues on the Commerce Committee for passing this critical piece of legislation out of committee, and I am hopeful it will be considered by the full Senate in the near future.”

Below are key provisions of the legislation:

·         Authorizes $150 million toward the acquisition of a new heavy polar icebreaker in Fiscal Year 2017.
·         Requires the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of the Navy, to develop a recapitalization plan to meet the Coast Guard statutory missions in the Polar Regions. That plan must:
O   Identify the vessel specifications, capabilities, equipment, and other needs required for the next generation of heavy polar icebreakers.
O   List the specific appropriations required for the acquisition of each icebreaker, for each fiscal year, until the fleet is fully capable of meeting the needs of the U.S. Coast Guard.
O   Describe any polar icebreaking capacity gaps that may arise based on when the current icebreakers will need to be retired.
O   Identify any additional gaps in icebreaking capacity due to current and future delays in new icebreaker construction.

·         Requires the GAO to conduct a study analyzing the gaps in icebreaking infrastructure in the U.S. fleet, and an analysis of how the current fleet does not meet mission requirements for the Coast Guard or the Navy. The study also requires an analysis of international funding models for icebreaking capacity.
The U.S. currently has only three polar icebreakers — two heavy and one medium – and one of them is inoperable. Statements from senior military and civilian leaders as well as numerous studies have highlighted inadequacies in the U.S. icebreaking fleet. By contrast, Russia has 40 operational icebreakers, several of which are nuclear powered.