(Washington, D.C.)  Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced that the polar icebreaker USCGC Polar Sea would receive $8 million in federal funding under the Fiscal Year 2015 Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Bill. 

“We are an Arctic nation, and adding additional icebreaker capability is vital to our economic and national security interests,” said Senator Murray. “I was proud to include this funding to start work on the Polar Sea as we continue to work to ensure the Coast Guard can fulfill its multiple missions 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 Subcommittee on Homeland Security, U.S. Senator Patty Murray previously secured $57 million to refit the USCGC Polar Star at the Vigor Shipyard in Seattle. The refit was completed in December 2012, and was the Polar Star 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 missions.  By contrast, Russia has six heavy class nuclear powered icebreakers, and four more under construction.  This $8 million in funding is a first step towards future reactivation of the Polar Sea to bolster U.S. Arctic capabilities.    

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.

The FY15 Homeland Security Appropriations bill was passed out of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee earlier today, and is expected to be taken up by the full Senate Appropriations Committee this Thursday.