Cantwell Applauds Icebreaker Funding in President’s Budget

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – After urging the president to prioritize funding for the U.S. icebreaking fleet, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) today applauded the inclusion of $150 million to add an additional icebreaker to the nation’s polar icebreaking fleet in President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal. The president’s budget would allow the U.S. to address mission-critical gaps in the United States polar icebreaking fleet.

“I applaud the President’s budget request to build the next generation of Coast Guard icebreakers,” said Senator Cantwell. “Building new polar icebreakers is critical to our long-term leadership and economic vitality in the Arctic region. With other countries upgrading their presence in the Arctic, we need new vessels. Additionally, I plan to fight for increased funding to restore the POLAR SEA which will save taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Last month, Senator Cantwell, a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee, urged President Obama to use his fiscal year 2017 budget to expand America’s woefully inadequate fleet of operational polar icebreakers. In her letter, Cantwell emphasized the importance of investing in new heavy icebreakers to prevent the U.S. from falling farther behind other countries that have already made securing access to the arctic a national priority.

Additionally, Cantwell called on the administration in November to take the United States Arctic leadership to the next level including funding of new icebreakers and refurbishing the Coast Guard Cutter, the POLAR SEA.

The U.S. currently has only three polar icebreakers: two heavy and one medium. Numerous studies highlight U.S. icebreaking fleet inadequacies in confirming the Coast Guard requires a minimum of three heavy and three medium icebreakers to fulfill its missions. By contrast, Russia has 40 operational icebreakers while Sweden and Finland operate six and seven icebreakers, respectively.  China, while not an Arctic nation, has growing interest in the opening of Arctic sea lanes and will be commissioning its 2nd icebreaker this summer.

A 2015 report by the McDowell Group found that in the Puget Sound region, Alaska-related commerce fueled 113,000 jobs and $6.2 billion in earnings—meaning icebreakers, which help facilitate shipping, tourism, fishing and other industries in the Artic, are integral to the economy of the Pacific Northwest.

For the last decade, Cantwell has been a leader in efforts to rebuild the Coast Guard’s aging polar icebreaking fleet. In May 2015, Cantwell and Murkowski co-sponsored a bill to authorize the construction of up to six heavy icebreakers.  Cantwell also called on the administration to fund the refurbishment of the Polar Sea and fund a new fleet of icebreakers in an op-ed to the Seattle Times.