Anchorage, AK – Alaska Congressman Don Young is spearheading efforts to raise much needed attention and awareness to the nation’s dwindling icebreaker fleet in preparation to President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska and the U.S. Arctic.
In a letter sent this week to President Obama, Congressman Young and other senior members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee – Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) – encouraged support for a broad range of options to fund, develop and construct new icebreaker vessels, including a “bold and desperately needed initiative” to use multi-agency programs to fund the leasing of privately-constructed and privately-owned icebreakers.
“Mr. President, for more than a decade, those who have operational interests in the Arctic have discussed the need for an aggressive program for icebreaker construction,” the letter says. “Yet those discussions have evolved little and yielded nothing. It is time to change our collective thinking. We urge you to look at the broadest range of options for the design and implementation of a multi-agency program for acquiring the federal icebreaking services needed to carry out federal safety, security, and environmental stewardship missions in the Arctic– including the chartering of a fleet of privately-constructed, privately-operated icebreakers that can be paid for by several pertinent agencies. Your upcoming trip to the Arctic offers the opportunity to announce just this sort of bold and desperately needed initiative.”
As a senior member of the House T&I Committee and Co-Chair of the Congressional Arctic Working Group, Congressman Young has long worked to expand the conversation of Arctic infrastructure and development. The joint letter to President Obama sends an important message that as a nation we must step away from the singular mindset that the federal government must solely own, build and operate its icebreaker fleet.
“The use of non-exclusively federal options may soften the impact on the federal budget, improve the long-term impact on the taxpayer, allow for quicker availability of modern assets to carry out the growing federal presence in the Arctic,” the lawmakers write. “It would be a mistake to ignore the considerable contributions that can be made by the private section, if it makes economic and operational sense to do so…. It is important to examine whether the use of the private sector to construct comparable vessels, or to provide services in others ways, may lead to significant savings in time and costs.”
The letter builds upon legislation recently sponsored in the House by Congressman Young, H.R. 3214, the National Icebreaker Fund Act of 2015, to provide an alternative multi-agency, multi-branch funding process for building or leasing new icebreakers to support shipping, resource development, and scientific research in the Arctic.
Click here for the full letter to President Obama.