The Senate approved $10.6 billion in operational funding for the Coast Guard on Wednesday in a bipartisan deal that included ballast water regulation in the Great Lakes and a permanent incidental discharge exemption for Alaska commercial vessels under 79 feet.
The legislation was approved 94-6. It now heads to the House of Representatives, where it isn’t expected to be taken up until after lawmakers return from Thanksgiving.
The operation and maintenance allocation of $7,914,195,000 for fiscal year 2019 includes $16.7 million for environmental compliance and restoration and nearly $200 million for the Coast Guard’s Medicare-eligible retiree healthcare fund contribution to the Department of Defense.
On top of that, $2,694,745,000 is provided for “procurement, construction, renovation, and improvement of aids to navigation, shore facilities, vessels, aircraft, and systems, including equipment related thereto, and for maintenance, rehabilitation, lease, and operation of facilities and equipment.” That includes $167.5 million for three fast response cutters.
Under an amendment from Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), the Coast Guard would have 180 days to report to pertinent congressional committees “a detailed report describing a plan to extend the service life of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB–10) until at least December 31, 2025, through an enhanced maintenance program.”
“This bill includes many provisions important to our Coast Guard, our environment, and to our shipbuilding community,” Cantwell said. “It represents a true, bipartisan effort to find solutions and put those solutions into action.”
Over the summer, the Coast Guard warned House appropriators that there’s “no wiggle room” on funding for a new polar icebreaker; House lawmakers’ plan was for the USCG to get $9.3 billion, which doesn’t include the requested icebreaker funds.
The research and development budget approved by senators for the upcoming fiscal year is just over $29 million.
The overall fiscal year 2018 funding level for the Coast Guard is $10.1 million.
Disagreement over the Great Lakes provision had stalled movement on the bill since spring. Concerned about the introduction of invasive species in local waters, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) led opposition; she ended up voting for the final bill, which states that the Environmental Protection Agency would craft new regulations on ballast water discharges from ships that would be enforced by the Coast Guard.
“After working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make the final Coast Guard reauthorization better, I will support this bipartisan legislation because it helps protect our Great Lakes from the spread of harmful invasive species and supports our coastal economy in Wisconsin,” Baldwin said.
Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) hashed out the deal, which also gives states the ability to establish “no-discharge zones” within their borders.
“As the Coast Guard works through hurricane season and continues drug interdiction and other critical efforts, Senate passage of this legislation is a critical step toward supporting the men and women in uniform who guard our nation,” Thune said. “…Clear, achievable rules will be the most effective way to address environmental concerns about the spread of invasive species through ballast water discharges.”
On the exemption provision affecting his home state, Sullivan said “the regulation of ballast water and other vessel discharges… has created nothing but uncertainty for Alaska’s fishermen, diverting attention and resources from running their businesses to complying with needless federal regulations.”
“While this issue has taken over a decade to resolve – with a series of 11th-hour, temporary extensions over the years – I’m pleased to see Congress provide Alaska’s fishermen with a permanent exemption from these over-burdensome regulations,” he said.
The legislation grants the Coast Guard new authorities and resources for combating trafficking and smuggling, requires engine cut-off switches for recreational boaters, directs the USCG to review its Arctic posture, requires a feasibility study of a Coast Guard ROTC program, allows electronic records for a wider range of logbooks, provides paid incremental family leave to Coasties, directs the USCG to use air surveillance to crack down on illegal fishing in the Western Pacific, and more.
Also rolled into the reauthorization bill was the National Timing Resilience and Security Act from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), which directs the Transportation secretary to establish and operate a land-based alternative timing substitute for global positioning system (GPS) satellites, and provide this to the military and civilians in the event GPS goes down.
“Currently, there is no domestic back-up system to GPS, and crucial infrastructure – including gas stations, medical devices, and ATMs – could shut down and pose immediate threat to life and the economy in the United States should it be disrupted for even just a few hours,” Cruz said. “It is important both to our national and economic security that we have an alternative GPS timing system.”
“The precise timing provided by GPS forms the backbone of the nation’s banking, communications, electricity, and transportation sectors,” said Markey, emphasizing that “this vital system could be imperiled by natural phenomenon like solar flares or coordinated attacks like jamming.”