House Approves Two Year Coast Guard Bill

Published Dec 5, 2012 4:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

A bill to institute common sense reforms for the U.S. Coast Guard, reduce regulatory burdens on small business, and uphold the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out its important and diverse missions unanimously passed the House of Representatives today.

The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 (H.R. 2838) was first introduced in the House by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) and Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ). This bill initially passed the House in November 2011. The Senate adopted a revised version of the House measure in September and today’s measure, which passed by voice vote, reflects a resolution of the differences between the House- and Senate-passed bills. The measure now goes back to the Senate.

“The Coast Guard is our nation’s first line of defense for maritime safety and security,” Mica said. “Just this weekend we were painfully reminded of this fact, and the important work of the Coast Guard when Boatswain Mate Chief Terrell Horne was killed attempting to stop suspected drug runners. Today’s bill provides the Coast Guard with the resources to continue to improve the ships, aircraft and communications systems they need to do their jobs. That is little enough reward for the service’s daily efforts to protect our shores from drug and migrant smugglers and potential terrorist threats, and to keep the vessels plying our waterways and their crews safe from harm.

Mica added, “This bill also reduces regulatory burdens on fishermen, small businesses, and port workers, and follows up on Committee Republicans’ 2010 ‘Sitting on Our Assets’ report by requiring a decision to either reactivate or decommission the Coast Guard’s currently sidelined heavy icebreaker.”

“This bill reverses the irresponsible cuts to the Coast Guard proposed by the Obama Administration,” LoBiondo said. “The President proposed to slash the service’s acquisition budget by nearly 20 percent, reduce the number of servicemembers by over a 1,000, close seasonal air facilities, and take recently upgraded helicopters out of service. The President’s budget request will only worsen the Coast Guard’s growing mission performance gaps, increase acquisition delays, drive up the costs of new assets, and deny our servicemembers the critical resources needed to perform their duties. Today’s bill provides sufficient funding to ensure these cuts do not happen and provide the service what it needs to successfully conduct its missions.”

The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 authorizes $8.6 billion in fiscal year 2013 and $8.7 billion in fiscal year 2014 for the activities of the Coast Guard.

The bill includes provisions that will give the Coast Guard, its servicemembers and dependents greater parity with their counterparts in the other Armed Services. The bill further aligns Coast Guard’s authorities with those granted to the Department of Defense.
H.R. 2838 also enhances operations while reducing costs by reforming and improving Coast Guard administration and eliminating obsolete authorities. The bill recognizes the current budget environment and saves taxpayer dollars without impacting the service’s critical missions.

Furthermore, the bill encourages job growth in the maritime sector by reducing regulatory burdens on small businesses. The regulatory relief provided by this bill includes eliminating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirement for maritime workers to make multiple trips to a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) enrollment center to receive the TWIC ID card; extending deadlines for compliance with new Coast Guard regulations on fishing vessels to ensure the service can enforce them fairly and properly; and extending the duration of medical certificates so mariners can continue to work while the Coast Guard reduces its backlog of applications.

H.R. 2838 also extends for an additional year the current moratorium for fishing vessels and small commercial vessels’ compliance with tangled and bureaucratic EPA regulations governing vessel incidental discharges, such as rain water runoff and air conditioner condensate.

LoBiondo stated his support for greater relief to duplicative and cumbersome ballast water regulations in the next Congress. “Although I appreciate the other body’s efforts to reach a compromise on several important provisions within this bill, I am baffled by their opposition to addressing this important issue,” LoBiondo said. “I hope that in the next Congress we can come to an agreement that will end the ridiculous patchwork of overlapping and contradictory ballast water regulations that are driving up costs and killing jobs in the maritime sector.”

Finally, the bill enhances the security of U.S. vessels and crew transiting high risk waters, reauthorizes the national security aspects of the Maritime Administration for fiscal year 2013, and makes several important improvements to NOAA’s marine debris program.