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Larsen Urges Progress to Strengthen Icebreaker Fleet

Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, submitted the following statement today addressing H.R. 4005, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014. The Act includes Larsen’s language to move the Coast Guard toward strengthening its icebreaker fleet.

Full text of the statement:

I rise in support of H.R. 4005. 

The Arctic is fast becoming the 21st-century version of the Northwest Passage. Just four years ago, two German ships followed a Russian icebreaker to complete the first commercial shipment across the Arctic. Last year, with the warmest Arctic summer on record, 46 ships made the crossing. An active and well-maintained icebreaker fleet is a key part of our country’s responsibility as an Arctic nation.

As Ranking Member of the Coast Guard subcommittee in the 112th Congress, I had the privilege to work with Representative LoBiondo, who was the Chairman at that time. We agreed it was time for the Coast Guard to make a decision about how to move forward with its icebreaker fleet. In the last Coast Guard reauthorization bill, we asked the agency to look at the business case for reactivating the POLAR SEA, which is currently docked in Seattle.

That analysis showed that for about $100 million, we could have a functioning POLAR SEA, which is about one-tenth the price tag for a brand new icebreaker.  In my view that is a bargain.

However, the Coast Guard still has not come to a conclusion about what to do with the POLAR SEA.  Instead, it is currently sitting in cold storage in Seattle. Every day the POLAR SEA sits without maintenance it loses value.

The bill before us would require the Coast Guard to use the analysis Representative LoBiondo and I requested and make a decision about the POLAR SEA.

I was pleased to hear Coast Guard Admiral Papp talk about reactivation of the POLAR SEA in a positive light during a subcommittee hearing last week. I believe the right course of action is to reactivate the POLAR SEA.

But that decision needs to be made soon.

The Coast Guard also needs to start moving on the next generation of icebreakers.

I understand that the intent of this legislation is to encourage the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and other interested agencies to partner with the Coast Guard in building a new fleet of icebreakers.

However, I am concerned that by tying the Coast Guard’s hands until those agencies fully engage in this process, we may be delaying much needed progress towards building a new icebreaker.

That’s why I am pleased that Chairman Duncan and Ranking Member Garamendi included some changes I requested to the icebreaker language in this bill to ensure that we do not hinder what little progress is being made on icebreakers today.

I hope we can continue to work together to ensure our country meets its responsibilities as an Arctic nation.

I urge my colleagues to support this bill.