Improving US Icebreaking Fleet is Aim of Larsen Bill

Apr 25, 2017 Issues: Environment, Supporting our Naval Bases

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02), along with Reps. Don Young (R-AK), Duncan Hunter (CA-52) and John Garamendi (CA-03) and have introduced bipartisan legislation to authorize procurement of up to six new icebreakers. H.R. 1816, the Icebreaker Act, would authorize the U.S. Navy to partner with the U.S. Coast Guard to procure three medium-class and three heavy-class icebreakers – an increase which is critical to advancing America’s national security and other interests in the Arctic.

“Earth’s climate is changing, and nowhere is it changing faster than the Arctic. Travel through the Arctic will increase, as will the opportunity to advance US scientific, military, and economic interests in the region. I am introducing this bill because unless the US addresses its current shortfall in icebreakers – as this bill aims to do – these opportunities will slip away,” said Rep. Larsen (WA-02), Co-Chair of the Congressional Arctic Working Group and a senior member House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Coast Guard Subcommittee.

Currently, the United States has only one active heavy icebreaker; the Polar Star, which requires significant federal investment to extend its service life to 2023. According to a June 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, current projections show a looming three to six year gap in U.S. heavy icebreaking abilities at the conclusion of the Polar Star’s service life. The Coast Guard’s pending icebreaker operations gap has received significant attention since the GAO report was released, including in a July 12, 2016 hearing by the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

The Icebreaker Act works to resolve the many challenges associated with acquiring new Coast Guard icebreakers by specifically authorizing the Navy to work with the Coast Guard to procure up to three medium-class and three heavy-class icebreakers.

The legislation works to address the significant challenges of procuring new Coast Guard icebreakers by utilizing the Navy’s experience in ship building and its significant annual shipbuilding budget of roughly $20 Billion. As estimates place the cost of one single heavy-class icebreaker to be in the vicinity of $1 billion, many believe it is impractical for the Coast Guard (whose annual procurement and acquisition budget is ~$1.25 billion) to procure an ice breaker itself. Further, the legislation capitalizes on the Navy’s previous leadership in procuring all currently operational icebreakers. 

In 2014, Larsen and Young launched the bipartisan Congressional Arctic Working Group.

Larsen and Young are two of the House’s leading voices focused on helping raise awareness about Arctic issues – including the need for the U.S. to strengthen its fleet of polar icebreakers. In recent years, Larsen and Young have called for a number of Government Accountability Office studies regarding the Arctic (found here and here).

For text of the resolution click HERE.