Senate Commerce Committee votes to reauthorize Coast Guard

Published 7:00 am Thursday, May 25, 2017

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1787, “A few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws.”  The Federalist author and father of the future Coast Guard recognized the value that these vessels could bring to an emerging new nation. 

That value remains true today, although the responsibilities and duties for our modern Coast Guard have grown far beyond the fleet’s early days.

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On May 18, the Senate Commerce Committee passed a reauthorization bill to ensure the Coast Guard can continue to fulfill these responsibilities and duties. 

The legislation, which I support, would authorize Coast Guard funding for the next two fiscal years, paving the way for new national security cutters and strengthening efforts to fight illicit drug trafficking and smuggling.  When it comes to border security, the Coast Guard is on the front lines of our defense.

Mississippi contributes to the Coast Guard’s success, with shipbuilders at Huntington Ingalls in Pascagoula constructing the fleet’s state-of-the-art national security cutters. 

Under the “Coast Guard Authorization Act,” multiyear funding would help reduce costs over time and offer crucial predictability to our nation’s shipyards and our shipbuilding workforce.

Commercial Vessels Should Have Uniform Standard

Predictability is important for shipbuilders, and it is important to those operating commercial vessels along our shores. 

To help foster greater regulatory certainty, I introduced the “Vessel Incidental Discharge Act” earlier this year, which would create a uniform but rigorous standard that the Coast Guard could enforce for ballast water and other vessel discharges. 

Right now, there are overlapping standards for commercial vessels from two federal agencies and 25 states.

I am pleased the Commerce Committee has included my legislation in the reauthorization of the Coast Guard.  A scientifically attainable national standard would be a needed step toward consistency and simplicity.  It would also eliminate unnecessary costs on vessel operators, who have to install equipment to meet multiple standards or incur state fines. 

Sea Year Remains Vital to Mariner Training

Alongside our Coast Guard, the work of the U.S. Merchant Marine is critical to national security and trade.  Serving as the crew on civilian ships, merchant mariners work to keep U.S. commerce strong.  They are also ready to assist with national defense in times of war or emergency, providing military transportation needs when necessary.

As a congressional member of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s Board of Visitors, I am committed to ensuring that our future mariners are prepared for their service.  This includes the continued success of the Sea Year training program. 

The long-running and esteemed Sea Year program allows students to gain experience working on U.S.-flagged commercial ships.  I remain engaged with the Maritime Administration and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to restore the Sea Year program to full capacity following its suspension and reinstatement over the past year.

Alexander Hamilton may not have envisioned the scope of the maritime traffic around our shores today, but his words are prudent even centuries later. 

With a coastline that stretches tens of thousands of miles and maritime commerce contributing tens of billions of dollars to the economy, America needs a reliable and capable Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.