Cantwell Navigates Coast Guard Bill to Senate Passage, Delivers Washington State Priorities

Bipartisan legislation improves oversight of oil spill risks, authorizes recapitalization of Seattle-based Coast Guard icebreaker, expands family leave for Coast Guard families, protects Washington state waters from invasive species

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After months of negotiations, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, secured a bipartisan agreement to pass the Coast Guard reauthorization bill.

The bill, which passed the Senate today by a vote of 94-6, includes a number of key Washington state priorities, including important science-based updates to ballast water management that will benefit Washington state fishermen and help protect Washington’s coasts and waterways. The bill puts existing West Coast ballast water management practices into law, such as strong state vessel inspection and enforcement, to help protect Washington waters from invasive species like quagga mussels. The bill also includes Cantwell’s legislation to reinstate protections for fishermen and small commercial vessel owners from adhering to costly requirements that do not tangibly protect or improve water quality when applied to vessels of their size.

“Washington state is rich in its maritime history and its heritage, and the Coast Guard is a large part of that,” Senator Cantwell said. “This bill includes many provisions important to our Coast Guard, our environment, and to our shipbuilding community. It represents a true, bipartisan effort to find solutions and put those solutions into action.”

In the legislation, Cantwell also secured a waiver to protect Washington state shipyard jobs at Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes. The waiver would allow the newly built America’s Finest vessel to fish in American waters and ensures the Coast Guard has the authority to review the project to protect the Jones Act.

“We were able to work on a solution to save good family-wage jobs at the Dakota Creek Shipyard,” Cantwell continued.

The bill also includes several additional Cantwell-secured provisions, including improved oversight of ships that pose oil spill risks, recapitalization of the Seattle-based Polar Star icebreaker, and improved paid family leave policies for Coast Guard members and their families. Specifically, Cantwell’s provisions in the legislation would benefit Washington state by:

  • Improving Coast Guard oversight of ships that pose an oil spill risk. The bill requires the Coast Guard to develop worst-case determinations for oil spill response mobilization times and requires the Government Accountability Office to audit how the Coast Guard reviews vessel oil spill contingency and response plans. Improved oversight will help keep Puget Sound and the outer coast healthy, especially from emerging oil threats such as tar sands.
  • Authorizing the rolling recapitalization of the only Coast Guard heavy icebreaker currently in operation. The Polar Star, which is homeported in Seattle, plays a key role in allowing the Coast Guard to conduct its mission requirements in the Polar regions and protect our interests in the Arctic.
  • Strengthening paid family leave policies for Coast Guard members and their families. The bill allows Coast Guard members to take family leave incrementally. Incremental leave allows Coast Guard parents the ability to have flexible work schedules to keep qualifications like flight hours during their family leave, respond to national emergencies, and ensure flexibility to address family care needs.

“From places like Cape Disappointment and Grays Harbor all the way to the Columbia, our Washington state Coast Guard work tirelessly to protect the Northwest and our environment,” Cantwell said.

Senator Cantwell has long been a leading advocate of Coast Guard and Arctic issues in the Senate. She has repeatedly pushed for funding for a new fleet of polar icebreakers, calling on the Obama administration to do so in 2015 and pressing the Coast Guard Commandant on his plans to fund new icebreakers during a Commerce Subcommittee hearing in 2017. She has also helped secure better medical care for Coast Guard retirees and for Coast Guard members serving in remote Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon, as well as expanded paid family leave for Washington Coast Guard families.

Following passage of the bill, Senator Cantwell spoke from the Senate floor. TV-quality video of the senator’s floor speech is available HERE, video from YouTube is available HERE, and audio is available HERE.