Washington, D.C. - Former Chairmen and senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Congressman Don Young today addressed a bipartisan bill to improve the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) essential mission of protecting our nation’s oceans and waterways. H.R. 4005, the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, advances a number of vitally important Alaskan causes such as repealing overbearing regulations facing fishermen and vessel owners, improvements to USCG lands and housing infrastructure, and the replacement and modernization of aging USCG assets including the nation’s deteriorating icebreaker fleet.
“Today, the committee took a very important step in reauthorizing U.S. Coast Guard spending for an additional two years,” said Congressman Don Young. “We in Alaska know the critically important role the Coast Guard serves and this legislation works to support and strengthen their mission of keeping our oceans safe and our coastlines secure. While there are a number of positive improvements to the bill, I am proud of the work we could offer Alaskans and the 2,500 active duty and reservists supporting operations in our state.”
H.R. 4005, includes a number of provisions sponsored by Congressman Young to address Alaska issues, including language to support economic development on unused USCG property in Womens Bay, AK on Kodiak Island. Current law prohibits leases by the USCG on submerged or tidal lands beyond the maximum 5-years, which greatly restricts long-term planning and asset management by the USCG.
“The short term lease limitations imposed on Coast Guard lands in locations like Womens Bay greatly hinders future development projects in communities that support our Coast Guard,” said Congressman Don Young. “At a time when federal funds are scarce for infrastructure, we are letting regulations stand in the way of private development wanted by all parties. This legislation would add a small tool in the arsenal for the USCG by enabling the Commandant complete discretion on whether or not to lease submerged and tidal lands for a longer period of time.”
In his continued fight to bolster the nation’s icebreaking fleet, Congressman Young worked to include language in H.R. 4005 that requires a determination by the USCG on the feasibility of refurbishing the USCGC Polar Sea, which currently sits in port out of service. The USCG would be required to submit a business case analysis to further examine the future of leasing or purchasing new icebreakers in case refurbishing the Polar Sea is not viable.
“My colleagues in Congress may say I sound like a broken record when it comes to the current state of the nation’s icebreaking capabilities, but as it stands only one third of our already inadequate fleet is in service,” said Congressman Young. “As activity in the Arctic increases, it’s imperative for the U.S. to have every available option on the table. We can’t continue this indefinite standstill, we must seek answers to our problems and make sure we explore every option on the table, whether that means building new icebreakers or finding leasing options in the private sector.”
Congressman Young’s Maritime Lien Reform Act was included in H.R. 4005 and works to protect the earning power and livelihood of Alaska commercial fishing permits owners by prohibiting maritime liens from being imposed on their fishing permits. Alaska law currently prohibits liens of Alaska limited entry permits, but court rulings have subjected fishing licenses to maritime lien under the Federal Admiralty Law.
“As one of our state’s largest industries, Alaskans know the value commercial fishing has not only to Alaska but to the entire country,” said Congressman Young. “The Maritime Lien Reform Act protects a fishermen’s ability to make a profit and pay off their debts without taking away their primary source of income. For many of our fishermen, their commercial permit is their only lifeline, and without it their debts may never be paid off. This legislation is a win-win for all parties involved, the fishermen, creditors, and Alaska.”
Congressman Young has also worked to include the following provisions beneficial to Alaska in the U.S Coast Guard and U.S. Maritime Transportation bill:
- Permanently exempts owners of fishing vessels and small commercial vessels from having to obtain EPA permits before discharging such substances as rain water runoff, air conditioner condensate, and bilge water from their vessels.
- Requires regular reporting on the status of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Polar Code negotiations, including safety for ships operating in polar waters, and the impacts on coastal communities in regards to the costs of delivering freight and fuel, as well on the safety of maritime transportation.
- Development of a National Maritime Strategy by the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD).
- Supports U.S. flagged and crewed vessels.
- Reauthorize and reform the Federal Maritime Commission.