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Alaska ACT: Coast Guard Authorization passes Congress without ECA language

On Wednesday, December 12th, the U.S. Senate passed the Coast Guard Authorization bill without amendments.  The bill was the focus of an effort to insert pilot project language addressing the implementation of the North American Emission Control Area (ECA).  Unfortunately, the bill will be sent to the President without the ECA language.

Initially, we were encouraged by the House Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Congressman Mica’s commitment to include the ECA language in the House version.  Although strong support for the language existed, the House of Representatives did not want to jeopardize the passage of the Coast Guard bill.  To ensure its passage, the House qualified their plan to include the ECA provision to add the pilot project only if there was a commitment in the Senate to keep the language.  Given concerns expressed by Senator Boxer from California and several others, the House version was passed to the Senate without the ECA.

As Chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, we were optimistic Senator Begich could insert the ECA language in the Senate version.  Many Alaskans reached out to Senator Begich through emails, phone calls, and letters, expressing the potential economic damage the ECA will cause if not addressed.  There is no question, Alaskans’ urgent request for help was heard loud and clear in Washington, D.C.

Given the process established by the Senate, the Coast Guard bill could only pass by unanimously consent.  This is a very high hurdle to overcome and provides an opportunity for a single senator to derail the bill.  Senator Begich made a valiant effort to work with Senator Boxer; however, she was very strong in her opposition.  In fact, she sent a letter along with several of her congressional colleagues from California opposing the ECA pilot project.

In the end, the opposition was unmoved and the bill passed the Senate without any ECA relief for Alaska.

Senator Begich understands the critical nature of the issue and continues to work to seek a solution.  Following passage of the Coast Guard bill, Senator Begich along with Hawaii Senators Inouye and Akaka sent a strong letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her to adopt administrative language for an approach similar to the pilot project language.  Senator Begich will follow up with the letter and will be speaking with Lisa Jackson next week to press the significance of the issue.

In addition, Senator Murkowski continues to work on including ECA language in an appropriations bill.  As the Ranking Member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Murkowski has worked hard to keep the ECA language active in the current appropriations negotiations.  Given the fiscal debate in Congress, it is unlikely an appropriation bill will pass this year.

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