(Washington, D.C.) Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced report language accompanying the Fiscal Year 2015 Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill to direct the National Science Foundation to work with their partners across the federal government to establish requirements for next generation polar class icebreakers. The Fiscal Year 2015 Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill passed the full committee today, and the bill will now be considered by the full Senate.
“We are an Arctic nation, and building the next generation icebreaker is vital to our economic and national security interests,” said Senator Murray. “This language is an important step to ensure the federal government has the tools it needs to protect America’s interest in the Arctic.”
Washington state, and specifically U.S. Coast Guard Base Seattle, is home to the nation’s icebreaking fleet. The United States currently has two functional icebreakers, the polar class USCGC Polar Star and the medium class science vessel USCGC Healy. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, U.S. Senator Patty Murray secured $57 million to refit the USCGC Polar Star at the Vigor Shipyard in Seattle. The refit was completed in December 2012, and was deployed this year to support the Antarctic resupply effort. The polar class icebreaker USCGC Polar Sea is also stationed in Seattle but is in mothball status and unable to perform its mission. By contrast, Russia has six heavy class nuclear powered icebreakers, and four more under construction.
Receding Arctic sea ice has created new sea lanes for commerce and the potential of exploration for natural resources. The United States also has vital national security interests in the Arctic. In May, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel highlighted the burgeoning impact of climate change, which has resulted in the dangerous potential for conflict in the Arctic. The icebreaking fleet is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, but is utilized by National Science Foundation scientists for Arctic research and is responsible for icebreaking for the U.S. Navy.
Full text of the language included below:Icebreakers- The Committee supports the interagency process to develop requirements for a new polar-class icebreaker, recognizing the strategic importance of Arctic operations to our Nation's future security and prosperity and the critical support that such a vessel will provide to NSF's research and logistics in Antarctica. NSF is encouraged to work with its interagency partners to support this effort, which should result in an operational requirements document no later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this act.