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Alaska Provisions Included in Coast Guard Bill

Maintains PWS Tanker Escorts, Provisions to Strengthen Arctic

Numerous provisions important to Alaskans, including safe oil transportation and enhancement of Alaska fisheries, were included when the U.S. Senate approved legislation to reauthorize the United States Coast Guard. HR 3619 passed the Senate by unanimous consent early this morning after passing the House of Representatives on Tuesday, clearing the way for the first reauthorization of the service since 2006.

"The Coast Guard plays a vital role in Alaska, performing search and rescue, fisheries patrol and enforcement, and ensuring safe shipping." Begich said. "Reauthorization of the Coast Guard updates the funding and personnel levels needed to perform these services and this bill also includes key provisions wanted by Alaska fishermen and the oil industry."

The bill authorizes operational funding at just under $7 billion and sets active duty strength at 47,000 guardsmen and women.  It includes provisions to modernize the service and its acquisitions process, improve marine safety and port security, and strengthen oil spill prevention.

As a member of the Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over the bill, Begich ensured key Alaska provisions were also included in the bill.  Among them was retaining the dual-tanker escort service in Prince William Sound, set to expire when the last single hulled tanker is phased out in the next few years.

"The dual escort tugs have proved their worth many times over the years responding when tankers had mechanical problems or other difficulties," Begich said.  "Retaining this service was priority for Prince William Sound residents and its inclusion in this bill is a victory for the long- term protection of this important watershed."

Other provisions for Alaska include:
  • Amends the American Fisheries Act to allow Bering Sea Pollock fishermen to modernize the  fleet;
  • Allows temporary use of foreign "anchor handler" vessels for Arctic oil exploration while new U.S.-flagged vessels are being built;
  • Implements several recommendations of the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment regarding navigational aids, spill response and search and rescue capabilities and calls for an analysis of future U.S. icebreaker needs;
  • A vessel traffic risk assessment in Cook Inlet.
Some provisions sought by Alaskans were dropped from the bill due to objections from minority members but Begich vowed to continue to press for these in the future. Among these were restoration of full funding for the Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI), and transfer of the decommissioned Coast Guard cutter Storis for public display and use as a museum in Juneau.

"The Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico highlighted the need for research into oil spill prevention, response and recovery.  As we look to future Arctic development, full funding of the work of OSRI is critical and I will continue to press for this and other Alaska needs, as well as other provisions needed to strengthen and support our maritime industry," Begich said.

Begich thanked Commerce Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Senate sponsor of the bill and chair of the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard for their leadership in passing the first Coast Guard authorization bill in many years and their support for the critical Alaska provisions.

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