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Friday, October 1, 2010

Some Good News for Puget Sound from Senator Cantwell

Coast Guard Authorization Logjam Breaks and Bill Passes

Many of you may have received this update from Senator Cantwell. But, those who care about Puget Sound ( as we all should) may take some reassurance from this legislation passing.  That the Coast Guard is vital to our region, goes without saying. We need this kind of leadership to keep protections in place for our "coast" to prevent disasters like the BP Oil Spill.

My Fellow Washingtonian:
For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, the Coast Guard is a vital agency.  The men and women of the Coast Guard ensure our maritime safety, protect our fisheries, prevent drugs and illegal immigrants from entering the U.S., and assist in oil spill prevention and clean-up.  The disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates the critical importance of ensuring the Coast Guard has the necessary resources and authority to protect our shores, our boaters, and our mariners.  That’s why I want to tell you about newly passed legislation that I believe will protect our shores and the coastal waters that are so important to our regional economy.
For the past four years, a handful of Senators have blocked debate and passage of the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, preventing any reform of the troubled Coast Guard acquisition program and blocking efforts to increase safety for fishing vessels among other important measures. At long last, that logjam was broken when the bill passed the Senate without opposition Wednesday night and was sent to the President for his signature early Thursday morningfollowing an affirmative voice vote by the House.
In my role as chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard, I was the lead author of this legislation in the Senate.  During the negotiations between the House and Senate, I pushed to ensure the final bill included provisions to address shortcomings in fishing vessel safety that contribute to commercial fishing being the most dangerous occupation in our country.  The result is a sweeping new improvement to fishing vessel safety standards, requiring that all large fishing vessels built after 2012 be approved as seaworthy by an independent classification society.  Smaller fishing vessels will have to meet the same basic safety standards currently applied to recreational vessels.  Large fishing vessels – those over 50 feet long and built before 2012 – will be required to comply with a Coast Guard alternative safety compliance program by 2020.  The provision also updates training and safety equipment requirements, and finally gives the Coast Guard the ability to make such requirements region- and fishery-specific.
Long before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, I have been fighting for oil spill protections for Washington’s coastal areas. Approximately 600 oil tankers and 3,000 oil barges travel through Puget Sound’s fragile ecosystem annually, carrying about 15 billion gallons of oil to Washington’s five refineries.  The Strait of Juan de Fuca also has significant outbound tanker traffic originating in Vancouver and carrying Canadian oil.  Current rules require industry to position oil spill response equipment in Puget Sound.  Until now, however, those requirements have not covered the full length of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, leaving that busy shipping lane unprotected.  This new law will require that oil spill response equipment, such as booms and barriers, be prepositioned along the Strait all the way out to Cape Flattery, supplementing the response equipment already in place in Puget Sound.
My other oil spill provisions enhance further reduce traffic in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, improve spill prevention on vessels transporting oil, and establish a stronger role for tribes.  The bill requires the Coast Guard to pursue enforcement of international oil pollution agreements covering the high seas, reducing the threat of oil spills in international waters.  It also requires the Guard to address the risk of spills resulting from oil transfer operations, address the risk of spills from human error, and establish a grant program to reduce smaller spills on recreational boats or fishing vessels.
This legislation also contains provisions from my Deepwater reform legislation, which makes significant changes to the Coast Guard’s troubled acquisition program.  Deepwater is a joint partnership between the Coast Guard, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman aimed at replacing the aging fleet of Coast Guard vessels and aircraft used on mission more than 50 miles from the coast.  Through this 25-year, $24 billion initiative, the Coast Guard plans to acquire three major classes of new cutters, new small boats, new or upgraded aircraft, modernized helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), all linked by state-of-the-art command, control, and communication systems.
However, a multi-year investigation uncovered significant problems, including cost overruns and cracks in the hulls of new vessels.  I held a hearing in 2007 that brought to light reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General outlining the Deepwater Program’s extensive problems.  Today’s legislation will ensure that your tax dollars are used wisely by mandating open competition in future Coast Guard acquisitions, ending the Coast Guard’s reliance on the private sector to manage its procurements, and demanding better technical oversight by Coast Guard engineering staff.
With this legislation our commercial fishermen will be safer, our pristine environment will be better protected, and our tax-dollars will be spent more wisely. Today is a big win for Washingtonians.
As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.  You can also consult my website for more information.

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