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Capital Report


January 2012 Issue

USCG Pushes for Arctic Infrastructure, Icebreakers
The U.S. House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing in December to examine the U.S. Coast Guard's (USCG) Arctic operations, reviewing recent reports of the service's polar capabilities.

The discussions focused on several roadblocks that must be overcome to expand U.S. operations and research in the Arctic. For example, the USCG maintains two heavy Polar-class icebreakers, neither of which is operational. The Polar Sea is being decommissioned, and the Polar Star is undergoing repairs to extend its service life, with plans to re-enter service in 2013. Expanding the USCG icebreaker fleet remains "unlikely" given the budgetary climate, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office's testimony at the hearing, and maintaining the Polar generation of icebreakers will be a "significant challenge," the office added.

The USCG's medium icebreaker, Healy, undertook four polar research missions in 2011 but is unable to complete major icebreaking missions unassisted. Kelly Falkner, deputy director of the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs, said the agency expects to continue to use Healy in Arctic research missions and predicts an increased need for icebreakers and ice-strengthened vessels. Falkner also expressed disappointment in Polar Star's decommissioning under H.R. 2838, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2011, which cut funding for renovations could have extended its life by seven to 10 years.

Adm. Robert Papp, Commandant of the USCG, said the service expects to rely on Healy and the Polar Star in the near term. He also highlighted infrastructure as the service's most immediate need. "Energy exploration is underway on the North Slope of Alaska, but the existing infrastructure is extremely limited. We need a seasonal facility to base our crews, hangar our aircraft and protect our vessels in order to mount a response."

Dueling Offshore Energy Bills Debuted in Congress
Republicans and Democrats unveiled in November opposing plans that include potentially major changes for the offshore oil industry. The House Republicans' American Energy Infrastructure Jobs Act pushes for more oil leases and Arctic drilling, while the Democrat-supported Summary of the Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act calls for increased royalties and fees.

The American Energy Infrastructure Jobs Act, which will be known as H.R. 7 once formally introduced, aims to remove government barriers to energy production and use revenues to repair and improve U.S. roads and bridges.

The act contains provisions that would require the Obama administration to lease offshore areas estimated to contain the most oil and natural gas resources, open 19 million acres on the North Slope in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and set rules for developing U.S. oil shale resources.

"The revenue will come from expanding American energy production—not from higher taxes or from deficit spending. (The bill) will also include reforms that increase private-sector involvement in infrastructure," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

In contrast to this legislation, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) introduced H.R. 3446, the Summary of the Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act. The bill would raise $19 billion over the next 10 years by requiring the Department of the Interior to establish an annual production incentive fee for federal onshore and offshore lands that are under leases for oil or natural gas production but are not producing.

"Rather than following the GOP strategy of giving away more public lands to these extractive industries, we should ensure that the industries looking to use our resources will pay American taxpayers what they rightfully deserve," Markey said.

Seized Fishing Ships Could Be Sunk Under Proposal
A measure introduced in November could give the U.S. Coast Guard several options for disposing of illegal fishing vessels, including sinking them in live-fire exercises. The Pirate Fishing Vessel Disposal Act of 2011, introduced by Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), would aim to prevent forfeited fishing vessels from being transferred to private parties and potentially ending up in the pirate fishing trade again.

Under three other options in the bill, NOAA and the Coast Guard could transfer vessels transferred to developing nations for use in fisheries patrol and enforcement activities or transfer them to other government or nonprofit institutions. Vessels could also be scrapped and recycled.

If sunk by live fire, the vessel's fuel, fishing gear, potential marine debris and other harmful substances would be removed. It would then be sunk in U.S. waters that are more than 50 miles offshore and at least a mile deep. The bill proposes that the Coast Guard and NOAA would cover decontamination costs with existing environmental protection trust funds.

The bill comes after the Coast Guard detained in October a ship that was illegally fishing 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak, Alaska. Begich had urged the Coast Guard to sink the ship, but the service did not have the resources to decontaminate the vessel to make it safe to sink.

Legislation to Renew Oceans Health Act Introduced
Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to reauthorize the Oceans and Human Health Act, passed in 2004, and expand it to include U.S. coastal areas and the Great Lakes.

The Human Health Reauthorization Act of 2011 would continue national research programs and efforts that examine the role of ocean and coastal resources in human health.

The act would add surveillance, forecasting, mitigation, prevention and outreach goals to federal research priorities and authorize the development of technologies for detecting and reducing hazards to human health from ocean sources. It would also coordinate an interdisciplinary team of federal agencies, including NOAA, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, to update the priorities for federal research on oceans and human health.

"Because we continue to rely so heavily on the resources that our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes provide for day-to-day life, it is critical that these ecosystems remain healthy," Capps said. "Reauthorizing the Oceans and Human Health Act will help us to achieve that goal."


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