U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, announced that the bipartisan Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 and U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) Reauthorization Act, as well as several oceans provisions passed the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislative package now heads to President Biden’s desk.
“From expanding our presence in the Arctic, to replacing new heavy surf boats in Southwest Washington that will help our Coast Guard save lives -- the crucial investments included in this law will keep our ports and waterways secure while ensuring that the maritime economy in Washington state continues to thrive,” Sen. Cantwell said. “The new law will also help protect our irreplaceable marine habitat in the Pacific Northwest, establishing a new Puget Sound Office that will bring together EPA, NOAA and other scientists to restore Puget Sound. It will also establish new efforts to protect orcas and other marine life from vessel-related impacts such as noise pollution, oil spills and ship strikes.”
The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 authorizes $14.36 billion for fiscal year 2023. Sen. Cantwell introduced the bill with Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Subcommittee Chair Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in September 2022 and the Committee passed it the same month. The bill authorizes funding for ships, aircraft, health care and other benefits to support Coast Guard members and their families. The NDAA also provides a 4.6% pay increase for Coast Guard members. Additionally, the bill will:
Crack Down on Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor: The bill improves traceability and intergovernmental coordination needed to catch illegal fishermen on the high seas and train NOAA and Coast Guard personnel to identify forced labor and child labor in the international fishing industry. It strengthens the tools NOAA and the Department of Homeland Security have to end illegal fishing and forced labor, including denial of port privileges, improved certification, observer training, and capacity building in countries working to cut down on illegal fishing activity.
Reduce Sexual Assault and Harassment at Sea: The bill includes provisions to improve oversight and investigations of sexual assault and harassment in the maritime industry and within the Coast Guard. It provides the Coast Guard the authority to revoke credentials of a mariner who commits certain sex crimes, defines sexual harassment and establishes a process for mariners to report crimes to the Coast Guard. The bill strengthens Coast Guard policy to ensure that victims of sexual assault are provided care as soon as possible when deployed upon a vessel, or serving in a remote location. It expands penalties for failure to report a sexual assault or harassment at sea.
Expand Options for Child Care: The bill expands investments to help Coast Guard families pay for child care services. It authorizes $25 million (a 56 percent increase over current authorization) and expands eligibility so families are able to use the subsidy for additional types of child care, including in-home care. The bill includes an amendment sponsored by Sen. Baldwin to improve the subsidy program to cut red tape and direct the Commandant to provide the child care subsidy directly to Coast Guard families benefiting from the program.
Expand Access to Medical Care, Education and Training: The Act authorizes research into expanding telemedicine access for members stationed in remote units like Cape Disappointment. The legislation also establishes a behavioral health policy and raises the limit on Coast Guard members permitted to be enrolled in post-graduate programs, increasing the number of members receiving training in the medical field. It requires the addition of at least five behavioral health specialists with training in family issues such as fertility, adoption and child loss.
Promote Diversity: The bill requires the Coast Guard to report to Congress actions taken in response to the 2021 RAND representation report, develop a 10-year strategy to enhance diversity through recruitment and accession, and establish a partnership program with an institution serving underrepresented communities. It expands the Junior ROTC Program to include partnerships in each Coast Guard district across the nation.
Support the Fishing Industry: The bill requires the Coast Guard Commandant to notify fishing and maritime vessels operating in areas where military exercises may occur and establishes an automatic process to notify fishing industry participants of safety, regulatory and other pertinent issues. It directs the National Academies of Sciences to study how offshore renewable energy (such as offshore wind) impacts commercial, recreational and Tribal fisheries and provide recommendations to protect fishing communities.
Replace 52-foot Motor Lifeboats: The Act allocates $172.5 million over the next five years for a fleet of 12 new 52-foot Motor Lifeboat replacement vessels, some of which would be homeported in Washington state in Ilwaco and Grays Harbor. The vessels play a critical role in ensuring safe maritime transportation and provide search and rescue capacity in support of commercial, charter, recreational and Tribal fisheries operating there.
New Polar Icebreaker and boosting Arctic Presence: The bill authorizes $167.2 million to continue acquisition of the third Polar Security Cutter, along with $1 million to establish the Arctic Security Cutter program office to support the future of maritime commerce, climate research and environmental protection in the Arctic. The bill authorizes $150 million for a new U.S. built commercially available icebreaker that will be operated by the Coast Guard and support National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research missions to include climate, fisheries and other needs. Together, these are a major step forward in boosting operational capacity in the Arctic to support transportation, tourism, research, national security and environmental protection missions.
Protect Orcas and Marine Mammals: The bill establishes a joint Coast Guard/NOAA pilot program to improve real-time tracking of orcas in Puget Sound to help minimize the impact of vessels on endangered whales. Modeled after Canada’s Whale Desk, the program will help track and proactively engage vessel operators to alert them to whale presence, as well as regulations and voluntary guidelines in place to protect the whales. On the Eastern Seaboard, the bill will improve tracking to reduce ship strikes of endangered North Atlantic right whales. It establishes a program to assess and monitor ocean noise and a $1.5 million annual competitive grant program to support ports that are proactively working to invest in whale mitigation measures.
Oil Spill Response: The bill establishes a new Coast Guard program to improve oil spill response operations with increased vessel response plan evaluations and oil spill response drills. The bill requires a Coast Guard study on national, regional and local oil spill response plans and effectiveness. And it includes language by Sen. Peters to improve the use of NOAA data to improve oil spill preparedness and response, as well as Sen. Markey’s provision to improve oil spill preparedness and oversight activities.
Improve Infrastructure: The bill authorizes $1 billion to address the Coast Guard’s infrastructure repair and replacement backlogs and requires an accounting of backlogs submitted to Congress annually. It includes legislation authored by Sen. Schatz regarding Coast Guard missions in the Western Pacific Region and calls for Coast Guard infrastructure and assets to optimize operations in the region. The bill includes Sen. Schatz’s provision requiring infrastructure improvements to Air Station Barber’s Point and provisions championed by Sen. Baldwin to boost infrastructure and other improvements to support Coast Guard missions in the Great Lakes. The bill includes provisions authored by Sen. Van Hollen to authorize a complete recapitalization of the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, including provisions to invest in training programs to support the civilian workforce at the Yard.
Improving the Military to Mariners Program and Mariner Credentialing: The bill includes the Military to Mariners Act, an amendment authored by Sens. Cruz, Cantwell, Wicker and Baldwin to improve the application and credentialing process for veterans transitioning to join the maritime industry. It requires federal officials to outline current regulations and simplify documentation requirements for veterans. The bill improves mariner credentialing with two amendments sponsored by Sens. Capito to study and improve merchant mariner processing and credentialing, critical to accessing family-wage jobs in the maritime industry.
Support Commercial Space: The bill would grant the Coast Guard temporary authority to allow for autonomous vessels to be used for space recovery operations in certain circumstances. This will improve safety as spacecraft return from space.
Improve Coast Guard Operations and Data Management. The bill includes an amendment led by Sen. Blumenthal for a pilot program to improve search and rescue by increasing data sharing. Sen. Duckworth’s provisions will expand the use of advanced technologies, machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve Coast Guard operations.
The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) Reauthorization Act authorizes $1.6 billion for the Maritime Administration to invest in the maritime workforce, strengthen maritime infrastructure and expand research and development into new technologies to advance fleet sustainability and innovation. Sen. Cantwell and Ranking Member Wicker introduced the legislation in June 2022, and the Committee passed the bill on June 22, 2022.
The $1.6 billion authorizes:
- $750 million -- Port Infrastructure Development Program
- $15 million -- Maritime Environmental and Technical Assistance Program
- $318 million -- Maritime Security Program
- $120 million -- Tanker Security Program (increase in FY 2024 and 2025)
- $30 million -- Small Shipyard Grant Program
- $112.8 million -- U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
- $53.7 million -- State maritime academies
- $15 million — Marine Highways Program
Additionally, the Act:
- Requires new National Maritime Strategy to help grow the maritime economy
- Establishes Maritime Innovation Center to spur new technological developments including green maritime fuels and ship quieting technology
- Requires strategy to increase diversity at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
- Increases oversight for facility construction and modernization of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
- Improves protections for midshipmen against sexual assault and sexual harassment at sea
- Expands grant programs to increase the number of U.S. maritime workers to help meet growing demand of offshore wind industry.
- Requires new efforts including a strategy to improve port infrastructure resiliency and disaster preparedness.
- Includes provisions to pursue ship quieting technology to reduce noise impact on environment, orcas
- Requires study to evaluate the impact of tire runoff at ports on salmon populations
Sens. Cantwell and Wicker sponsored an “Oceans and Atmosphere” amendment of several bills which previously passed the Committee. Collectively these bills authorize $429 million annually through 2027 for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) programs to the maintain safe shipping routes, conserve fishery resources, and adapt to the effects of our changing climate on our oceans. The amendment includes:
National Ocean Exploration Act
Originally sponsored by Sens. Cantwell, Wicker, Schatz, Murkowski, Whitehouse and Hyde-Smith, the Act authorizes $363 million annually for expanding ocean exploration and ocean mapping efforts -- more than 80 percent of US ocean is unmapped. The bill requires NOAA to leverage partnerships with other Federal Agencies and non-governmental organizations to support services like ocean charts and tide data, critical for maritime navigation and shipping. It supports Pacific Northwest-based research from mapping the Arctic to facilitate shipping, tourism and commerce, to exploring the biological and cultural importance of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
Marine Mammal Research and Response Act
Originally authored by Sen. Cantwell, and cosponsored by Sens. Murkowski, Sullivan, Carper and Padilla, the bill authorizes $8.5 million annually for NOAA’s John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue and Response grant program which has disbursed almost $500,000 to Washington state organizations including the Cascadia Research Collective (Olympia), the Whale Museum (Friday Harbor) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Volcanic Ash and Fumes Act of 2022
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Schatz and Murkowski will improve prediction and tracking of dangerous ash clouds and gases from volcanic eruptions dangerous to public health, air travel and agriculture. Washington has five volcanoes listed by the USGS as high or very high threat potential: Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams.
Regional Ocean Partnerships
Sponsored by Sens. Wicker and Hassan, the bill authorizes $11 million annually for NOAA’s Regional Ocean Partnerships, including $1 million to support Tribal government engagement. The West Coast Ocean Alliance (WCOA) is a partnership between California, Oregon, Washington, and coastal Indian Tribes. The Makah, Quileute, and Quinault Nation Tribes are all members.
Learning Excellence and Good Examples from New Developers (LEGEND) Act
The LEGEND Act, sponsored by Sens. Schatz and Thune, provides a new $2 million authorization annually to increase public access to NOAA’s operational Earth system’s models and data. Academics and private researchers Washington state would have the opportunity to apply the data to local climate modeling projects.
The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2021
The Act authorizes $45 million annually to protect coral reefs. This bill was led by Sens. Schatz, Peters, Hirono, Coons, Scott and Rubio.
The Bolstering Long Term Understanding and Exploration of the Great Lakes, Ocean, Bays and Estuaries (BLUE GLOBE) Act, cosponsored by Sens. Whitehouse, Murkowski, Merkley, Portman and Blumenthal would improve and innovate ocean, coastal and Great Lakes research across the Federal government.