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House passes Coast Guard Authorization Act

Written by Nick Blenkey

Capitol dome daylightDECEMBER 5, 2012 — The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 has been passed by a House of Representatives voice vote. The bill initially passed the House in November 2011.  The Senate adopted a revised version of the House measure in September and today’s measure reflects a resolution of the differences between the House- and Senate-passed bills. The measure now goes back to the Senate.

“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,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.).

“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,” Chairman Mica added.

“This bill reverses the irresponsible cuts to the Coast Guard proposed by the Obama Administration,” said Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.).  “The President proposed to slash the service’s acquisition budget by nearly 20 percent, reduce the number of servicemembers by over 1,000, close seasonal air facilities, and take recently upgraded helicopters out of service … 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.

A Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure press release says that the bill includes provisions that will give the Coast Guard, its service members 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.

The bill also includes regulatory relief that 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 EPA regulations governing vessel incidental discharges, such as rain water runoff and air conditioner condensate.

Chairman 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,” Rep. 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.

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