A Hearing on the Federal Radionavigation Plan, H.R. 1684, the Foreign Spill Protection Act, and H.R. ----, the National Icebreaker Fund Act of 2015
2253 Rayburn House Office Building
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Hearing on “the Federal Radionavigation Plan, H.R. 1684, the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2015, and H.R. ----, the National Icebreaker Fund Act of 2015”
(Remarks as Prepared)
The Subcommittee is meeting today to review three topics – the Federal Radionavigation Plan, the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2015, and the National Icebreaker Fund Act of 2015.
The first item for consideration is the Federal Radionavigation Plan (FRP), which is the federal government’s primary policy and planning document for positioning, navigation, and timing, commonly referred to as PNT. The plan describes the government’s role, responsibilities, and policies regarding PNT systems and data and is updated every two years through the joint efforts of the Departments of Defense, Transportation, and Homeland Security.
The Global Positioning System, or GPS, is the most recognized PNT system and is vital to U.S. national security, the safe operation and reliability of critical infrastructure, and economic prosperity. GPS signals have been incorporated into virtually every technology, from cellphones to financial systems, the power grid and information systems. Marine transportation systems are also highly dependent on GPS. The vast majority of the millions of recreational vessels, fishing vessels, commercial vessels, and foreign vessels that call on U.S. ports rely on at least one, if not many GPS based systems for safe navigation, collision avoidance, and emergency procedures. With a growing dependency on GPS in this nation, it is concerning that the Department of Homeland Security officials have called GPS “a single point of failure for critical infrastructure.”
In 2004, the Department of Transportation began working with DHS to acquire a backup system for GPS under a directive from President G.W. Bush. President Obama continued the directive, and in the 2008 edition of the FRP, the signatory agencies outlined a plan to develop a GPS backup system. However, the next two editions of the FRP failed to provide a backup system.
The Ranking Member and I sent a letter last year to the Secretaries of Transportation, Homeland Security, and Defense asking that the 2014 version of the FRP outline the government’s plan for addressing the problem. The 2014 edition of the plan was released in May and does not identify what action will be taken or the lead agency. It has been 11 years since acknowledgment of this problem. We need to move beyond discussing the GPS vulnerability and start addressing the issue.
The second item for consideration is Mr. Curbelo’s bill, H.R. 1684, the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2015. The bill would include foreign offshore units where there is a discharge or the substantial threat of oil discharge reaching U.S. waters or shores within the liability section of the Oil Pollution Act. The foreign offshore units would be a “responsible party” liable for removal costs and damages in the same manner as a U.S. offshore facility.
The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico showed that technology can fail and existing response policies can be inadequate. The impacts of that spill are still being felt in the region. BP costs for the spill damages are currently over $50 billion. The size, scope, and cost of that spill raise concerns about foreign deepwater oil drilling operations that could impact U.S. waters and shorelines.
The Subcommittee held a hearing in January 2012 to review “Offshore Drilling in Cuba and the Bahamas: The Coast Guard’s Oil Spill Readiness & Response Planning.” At the hearing, the Coast Guard discussed how through International Conventions and frameworks the Coast Guard is working with Caribbean nations, including Cuba and the Bahamas, to coordinate to combat spill events. The Coast Guard also discussed its National Contingency Plan and the work of the National Response Teams and their planning and preparedness efforts with state and local communities. I am interested to hear about the agreements the Coast Guard has with its international partners, what prevention actions are being adopted to prevent an oil spill, and in the event a spill occurs, what type of international response and coordination can we expect.
H.R. 1684 gets at a specific issue, that there be a “responsible party” to pay for cleanup and damages for a foreign sourced oil spill that impacts U.S. waters and adjacent shorelines. While the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund could be used when there is no responsible party, it limits all costs to $1 billion. Any spill even near the scope of the Deepwater Horizon spill would quickly overwhelm the Fund. The U.S. taxpayer shouldn’t be on the hook for any costs not covered by the Fund for a spill that originates outside of the U.S., especially if the foreign offshore unit has a known owner or operator. I understand the Coast Guard may have concerns with the legislation. I look forward to discussing the bill today.
The last item for consideration today is a draft bill, the National Icebreaker Fund Act. The bill would create a funding source that could be used for the alteration or renovation of icebreakers and the lease or charter of private icebreakers.
The POLAR SEA, currently inactive, and the POLAR STAR are both beyond their original 30-year service life. The POLAR STAR was recently renovated and is working within an estimated 7 to 10 year service life extension. The HEALY will reach its estimated end-of-service life in 2030. This conservatively puts us 5 to 15 years away from end-of-service life for the two active icebreakers and for the POLAR SEA, if it gets a 7 to 10 year extension in the coming years.
The operational status – more accurately, the non-operational status – of the icebreakers is creating mission gaps. The older the icebreakers get, the longer it takes the Administration to come up with a replacement plan, the closer we are to end-of-service life for the icebreakers, or, worst case scenario, we find ourselves without icebreakers. Years are passing with no progress on the acquisition or charter/leasing of an icebreaker or on decisions to reactivate the POLAR SEA.
Congress has restricted the use of Coast Guard acquisition funds to the construction of an icebreaker that can carry out Coast Guard missions. U.S. icebreakers have supported numerous executive agency missions and the Coast Guard should not bear the burden of the full cost of building an icebreaker.
The draft bill, the National Icebreaker Fund Act, could provide funding for long- or short-term solutions for renovating the aging icebreakers or chartering or leasing an icebreaker to alleviate mission gaps to the extent possible. In addition, through further discussion and bipartisan cooperation, the bill has been modified to include construction as a use of the Fund. The bill should be viewed as part of a broader solution for the Coast Guard and its icebreakers. I look forward to discussing the bill with the witnesses today.