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Begich Coast Guard Reauthorization Act Passes Senate

Giving the Coast Guard the necessary tools and resources to carry out its statutory missions, the U.S. Senate early this morning passed the Coast Guard Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013.  The bill is similar to the version originally introduced by Sen. Mark Begich, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard; Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV); and Oceans Subcommittee Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

“Reauthorization of the Coast Guard Act is incredibly important to Alaska,” Begich said. “From enforcing our laws on fisheries and maritime safety, to guarding our national security, the Coast Guard is a critical partner in our state. With this new authorization bill, we renew our nation’s commitment to the Coast Guard and make sure they have the cutters, aircraft, small boats, shore facilities and statutory authorities to perform their varied and necessary missions.”

The legislation authorizes the Coast Guard’s funding levels at $8.7 billion, including operations; acquisition and maintenance of vessels, aircraft and facilities; research, the reserve program and other statutory missions.  The bill sets active-duty personnel levels for the service at 47,000 and makes a number of improvements, clarifications and refinements to the Coast Guard’s statutory authority.

Other components of the bill include:

·         Making the Coast Guard the sole provider of polar icebreaking services to agencies of the federal government, and require the Secretary of Homeland Security to ensure that the Coast Guard continues to operate a minimum of two heavy polar icebreakers as a part of its fleet;

·         Authorizing the Coast Guard advance procurement funding authority for the purchase of new ship construction materials, parts, and components that have a long “lead time” to make sure the Coast Guard is able to replace its timeworn fleet at the best possible savings to the taxpayers;

·         Requiring the Coast Guard to study the feasibility and potential of establishing a deep water sea port in the Arctic to protect and advance United States interests within the Arctic region;

·         Requiring the Coast Guard to consult with other federal, state and local entities in the determination of what improvements are necessary to make the ice-free harbor at St. George, Alaska a fully functional harbor throughout the year; and

·         Authorizing the Coast Guard to construct or lease a hangar, berthing, and messing facility in the Aleutian Island operating area to support Coast Guard operations in remote areas.

adjusts funding levels for the Cordova-based Oil Spill Recovery Institute for inflation and other provisions.

After today’s Senate action, the bill goes to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the House-passed version.

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