Failure of Congress to invest in Coast Guard icebreakers jeopardizes U.S. security and economic interests in the Arctic Ocean.
THE scheduled departure of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy is a timely reminder of the importance of its capabilities and the continuing failure of Congress to make a basic investment in the future of the country.
The Healy is set to leave Tuesday from its Seattle home port for the Arctic on a four-month deployment to support three scientific missions.
The Healy will aid dozens of university and government researchers who are assessing and documenting the region’s biodiversity, setting up monitoring devices to track the impacts of climate change and continuing to define the profile of the Extended Continental Shelf.
Mindlessly frugal members of Congress should take note of the Healy’s multi-mission support for mapping the ECS. The mission directly relates to the United States’ claim for natural resources found on or beneath the ocean floor, according to the Coast Guard.
All the penny-pinchers need to think about return on investment. As climate change continues to shrink the Arctic ice cap, the international competition to exploit maritime and economic opportunities of the region is intense.
The U.S. has two icebreakers, the Healy, primarily a research vessel, and the Polar Star, which is past its pull date. Another icebreaker, the Polar Sea, exists as a source of parts.
Congress fiddles around as other nations, notably China and Russia, continue to enhance their ability to shape policy with a formidable icebreaker presence.”
Congress fiddles around as other nations, notably China and Russia, continue to enhance their ability to shape policy with a formidable icebreaker presence.
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., dribble out tiny bits of money and avoid making the substantial financial commitment required. Building a heavy-duty icebreaker can cost $1 billion and — another equally important consideration — take up to 10 years.
Last September, President Obama stirred the waters with a call to speed up acquisition and building of heavy-duty icebreakers that can operate year-round. Exasperated critics have not seen any follow up from the White House or Congress.
Another issue is the atrophy of the maritime skills to build heavy-duty icebreakers from scratch. As Op-Ed writer Maxwell C. McGrath-Horn pointed out [“U.S. must invest in a new generation of polar icebreakers,” Opinion, April 14], the option to look elsewhere for emergency relief is blocked by a federal prohibition that dates to 1920.
The rhetoric is always about the need for at least a half-dozen new, heavy-duty icebreakers. All talk and no action. The White House even drags its feet on refurbishing what exists.
As the Healy heads to the Arctic, the captain and crew and the researchers on board should know their work and skills are appreciated. Congress could put an exclamation on those sentiments by funding a basic national security need for new icebreakers.