Cantwell Touts Wins for Washington State, Environmental Protections as Coast Guard Bill Passes Senate Commerce Committee

Coast Guard legislation includes authorization for new heavy, medium icebreakers; southern resident orca protections; new oil spill prevention provisions; Also contains important provisions for Coast Guard members, families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) touted important new provisions to help Washington state and protect the environment in the Coast Guard reauthorization legislation passed today by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Cantwell, the Ranking Member of the committee, introduced the legislation with U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK); Roger Wicker (R-MS), the Commerce Committee chairman; and Ed Markey (D-MA) last week. 

“In the state of Washington, we have a proud maritime heritage, so the Coast Guard is an integral part of our community,” Cantwell said. “This legislation moves the ball forward on important priorities for the men and women that work for the Coast Guard.” 

Specifically, the bill includes provisions to: 

Authorize new icebreakers

  • The legislation authorizes three new heavy icebreakers that will be homeported in Seattle.
  • It also authorizes three new medium icebreakers for the first time. 

Protect southern resident orcas

  • The legislation requires the Coast Guard to work with the state of Washington, Tribes, and others to establish a pilot program to reduce impacts of vessel noise from large shipping traffic on southern resident orcas.
  • It also requires an assessment and new recommendations to improve Coast Guard efforts to enforce small vessel traffic buffer zones in Puget Sound to minimize small vessel noise and disturbance to orcas. 

Improve oil spill prevention and research

  • The legislation codifies a number of recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to reduce the risk of vessel casualties and oil spills and improve vessel traffic safety.
  • It requires the U.S. research plan to improve oil spill prevention and response to be updated every 10 years, with mandatory feedback from the National Academy of Sciences to ensure the most up-to-date science is being applied to protect our waters from oil spills.
  • It also requires research and technology evaluations for all classes of oil, including heavy oils, to ensure the Coast Guard and other agencies have the knowledge and technology necessary to clean up tar sands oil. 

Ensure tsunami safety

  • The legislation requires a study and recommendations to secure tsunami vertical evacuation infrastructure for Coast Guard members and their families stationed in Grays Harbor, as well as to understand the evacuation needs of the surrounding Grays Harbor community. 

Support Coast Guard families

  • The legislation will ensure Coast Guard members are paid in the event of a government shutdown.
  • It makes significant improvements to the services needed to recruit, retain, and invest in women in the Coast Guard and creates two new advisory boards to advise leadership on issues facing women in the Coast Guard.
  • The legislation requires the Coast Guard to create a public strategy to improve leadership development and improve the culture of inclusion and diversity in the Coast Guard.
  • It also creates new programs and resources to improve access to child care for Coast Guard families. 

Senator Cantwell has been a leading advocate of the Coast Guard in the Senate. Last year, she helped secure a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the Coast Guard. The bill included important provisions to update ballast water management, improve Coast Guard oversight of oil spill risks, recapitalize the Coast Guard’s existing heavy icebreaker, and strengthen paid family leave for Coast Guard members and their families. 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. 

After passing the Commerce Committee, the legislation now moves on for consideration before the full Senate. 

The full transcript of Senator Cantwell’s remarks on the bill is available HERE.