Implementing U.S. Policy in the Arctic
2253 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
Summary of Subject Matter
Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
July 23, 2014
The Subcommittee is meeting this morning to review how the agencies that will play the largest roles in the Arctic intend to implement the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, as well as enhance their presence, understanding, and mission effectiveness in the area.
As we all know, the ice caps are shrinking in the Arctic, effectively creating new coastline and navigable waters. This opening is already providing significant economic opportunities for the energy and maritime transportation sectors. However, as human presence increases and as other nations continue to make claims in the Arctic, it has also exposed a new set of risks and challenges to our sovereignty and national security.
The National Strategy calls for a strong U.S presence in the Arctic, but the Implementation Plan that accompanies it fails to identify what specific infrastructure or capabilities are required to meet those goals, or how or when they will be funded. For instance, there is no discussion of requirements for icebreakers, but each of the agencies here today requires one to carry out its missions in the Arctic.
While Russia maintains a fleet of nearly 40 icebreakers, and China, a non-Arctic nation, is building new icebreakers, the U.S. fleet of heavy icebreakers is in a dismal state. One has been rusting away in Seattle for three years with a busted engine, while the Coast Guard fails to make a decision about its future. The other is operational thanks to an infusion of $60 million from Congress, but will likely not last longer than another seven years.
The Coast Guard has been working with 10 other federal agencies to develop requirements for a new polar icebreaker, but has yet to identify where in its acquisition budget it will find $1.2 billion to construct it. I share the concerns raised by Admiral Papp at our budget hearing in March that forcing the Coast Guard to pay for a new icebreaker will significantly delay the acquisition of other new assets the Service critically needs. And I agree with him that the cost should be shared across all agencies that have requirements for an icebreaker. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses whether they plan on contributing money, as opposed to just missions, to this whole-of-government effort.
I am also interested in hearing the status of negotiations on the Polar Code. As vessel traffic increases, the implementation of the Polar Code should go a long way toward ensuring the safety of maritime transportation and protection of the Arctic environment. Establishing vessel construction and operating standards up front will create a predictable operating environment for industry.
Finally, the United States is set to take the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year. I applaud the recent appointment of Admiral Papp as the Nation’s first Special Representative for the Arctic. I am interested in hearing more about what role Admiral Papp will play in the chairmanship, as well as the agenda the State Department intends to put forward.
We need to be protecting our national interests in the Arctic. I hope today’s hearing will draw light on how the administration intends to accomplish that.
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