Nov 19 2018
Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill to Reauthorize the Service
After years of negotiations, the Senate has passed a two-year reauthorization of the Coast Guard. The bipartisan legislation is exhaustive, just as are the Coast Guard’s wide-ranging missions. Not only does the bill support the tens of thousands of Americans in the service’s active-duty, reserve, civilian, and auxiliary forces, but it anticipates the Coast Guard’s long-term needs.
The Coast Guard is responsible for carrying out 11 core missions for the American people. One of those missions is search-and-rescue, which Mississippians saw firsthand after Hurricane Katrina. That mission has been repeatedly fulfilled over the past two years as active hurricane seasons brought devastating storms to U.S. coastlines and put American lives at risk.
Another mission is to stop illegal drugs from entering the United States, and the Coast Guard continues to tally major drug busts. Last year, the service set a record for its counterdrug operations, intercepting more than 455,000 pounds of cocaine valued at $6 billion. On an average day, the Coast Guard could seize upwards of 1,000 pounds of illegal narcotics.
New Ships, Needed Maintenance
To be effective in these missions, the men and women of the Coast Guard need technologically advanced equipment. Mississippi’s shipbuilders have risen to this challenge, building all of the Legend-class national security cutters in the Coast Guard’s fleet. The value of these ships is recognized in the Coast Guard bill, which approves the purchase of three more.
Another provision in the bill recognizes urgent maintenance needs, in particular for the Polar Star, our nation’s only heavy polar icebreaker. At 42 years old, this vessel is 12 years past its intended service life. However, the strategic importance of the Arctic and its potential as a shipping corridor continue to rise. The United States faces serious geopolitical competition from countries like Russia that have aggressively built a large icebreaker fleet.
Uniform Standard for Commercial Vessels
The Coast Guard bill also addresses concerns from America’s commercial vessel operators, who have faced a patchwork of regulations regarding a vessel’s ballast water discharge. The discharge of ballast water is important to a ship’s buoyancy, but it can also have an environmental impact. The fear is that the discharge of ballast water could inadvertently introduce an invasive and potentially harmful species into a new environment. To combat these concerns, regulations have been put into place over time by the Coast Guard, EPA, and 25 states.
The Coast Guard bill will simplify the situation with the adoption of a uniform, science-based national standard for ballast water discharge. I have been a longtime proponent of streamlining the current regulations, even authoring a standalone bill to do so. I am glad key provisions of my bill were included in the Coast Guard’s reauthorization and have earned the Senate’s support. The approach combines the enforcement capability of the Coast Guard and the environmental expertise of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The value the Coast Guard provides to the American people is evident in the scope of this reauthorization bill and the dedication by lawmakers to get it right. The service’s diverse missions are critical to public safety and national security, as evidenced by the vote of 94 to 6 on the bill’s final passage in the Senate.