Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill passes House

domeH.R. 2838, The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2011, passed the U.S. House of Representatives today by voice vote. 

The bill is intended as a fiscally responsible reauthorization of the U.S. Coast Guard, which includes programmatic reforms to help ensure the Service can better utilize resources and more efficiently replace its aging assets.

The Transportation Committee passed H.R. 2838 on Thursday, September 8, 2011. The legislation was introduced in the House by Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Frank A. LoBiondo (R-NJ) and co-sponsored by Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL).  It authorizes the service for fiscal years 2012 through 2014, and authorizes a service strength of 47,000 active duty personnel.  The bill authorizes $8.49 billion for the Coast Guard for fiscal year 2012, $8.6 billion for fiscal year 2013, and $8.7 billion for fiscal year 2014.

"The Coast Guard does an outstanding job for our nation," said Chairman LoBiondo.  "However, in the current budget environment, it is important for Congress to review the Service's authorities to find ways to improve operations while reducing costs.  H.R. 2838 does that in a manner that will not impact the Service's critical missions."

H.R. 2838 includes provisions that will give the Coast Guard and its personnel greater parity with the Department of Defense (DoD).  Parity among the uniformed services has been a top priority of the Committee for some time and this bill makes significant progress towards aligning the Coast Guard's authorities with those granted to DoD.

The bill contains a title intended to reform and improve Coast Guard administration.

It also includes several provisions to improve the safety and efficiency of the maritime transportation system, as well as to protect and grow maritime related jobs.

Also included in the legislation are provisions that set a nationwide standard for the treatment of ballast water that remedies the current patchwork of varying and inconsistent ballast water regulations across states.  Currently the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have developed separate regulations under two different federal laws to govern the discharge of ballast water.  The EPA's ballast water program under the Clean Water Act is especially burdensome, as it allows each individual state to add state requirements on top of the federal regulations. Twenty-nine states and tribes have done just that. As a result, small businesses are forced to comply with differing and often conflicting ballast water standards for each of these 29 states and tribal areas.

"Under current law, both the Coast Guard and EPA regulate ballast water, while every state and tribe is allowed to add their own requirements to those regulations," said Chairman LoBiondo.  "As a result, ships engaged in interstate and international commerce must comply with two federal standards, as well as 29 differing state and tribal ballast water standards, many of which are contradictory and technologically unachievable.   The current system is simply impossible. It threatens our international maritime trade.  It is driving industry away from coastwise trade.  It is undermining our attempts to revitalize the U.S. flagged fleet.  It is destroying jobs and it is hurting our economy.  This legislation eliminates this ridiculous regulatory regime and establishes a single, uniform national standard that is based on the most effective technology currently available.   The EPA must update the standard on a regular basis or at the request of a state," LoBiondo continued.  

H.R. 2838 is designed to be a common sense solution to the problem, immediately putting in place a standard for ballast water treatment that is both achievable and effective.  This approach is endorsed by the EPA, the Coast Guard, the National Academy of Sciences, the EPA's Science Advisory Board, the U.S. flagged industry, maritime labor, manufacturers, farmers, energy producers and the nation's largest and most strategic international trading partners.

The bill strengthens existing authorities against piracy, as well as improves an existing training program to instruct mariners on acceptable use of force against pirates.  It authorizes armed security on vessels carrying government impelled cargo through high risk waters, and includes a report on ways to improve U.S. efforts to track ransom payments and the movement of money through Somali piracy networks.

"Somali pirates have vastly expanded the range of their attacks on merchant vessels.  But even more alarming, the pirates have dramatically increased the number and viciousness of their attacks in recent months," said LoBiondo. "To protect American seafarers, this legislation will strengthen an existing training program on use of force against pirates.  Additionally, it will provide authority for government agencies to reimburse shippers for armed security aboard vessels carrying U.S. aid to the region."

November 15, 2011

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