What others say: Congress warming up to icebreakers

  • By Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial
  • Tuesday, September 26, 2017 9:46am
  • Opinion

More and more, the Arctic is finding its way into the consciousness of the nation’s leaders. The Arctic is becoming more ice-free, and China and Russia are moving — have been moving — to assert themselves in this polar vacuum.

At the rate things are going, though, the vacuum will cease to exist and nations other than the United States will have dominance in the region. And, it should be remembered, the region includes the northern Alaska coastline of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

So it is with urgency that the U.S. needs to increase its complement of polar icebreakers.

How many does the U.S. have? Count them on two fingers.

The Coast Guard operates the medium-duty icebreaker Healy and the heavy-duty icebreaker Polar Star. A third vessel, the Polar Sea, has been out of commission since 2010 because of engine failure, and the Coast Guard determined earlier this year that it would be too costly to repair. It is now considered a parts donor for the Polar Star.

The primary mission of the Polar Star, however, isn’t the Arctic. It’s the Antarctic, where the ship travels annually to break a path through the ice for resupply ships heading to McMurdo Station, the U.S. research facility located on Antarctica’s Ross Island.

That leaves the medium-duty icebreaker Healy as the only U.S. icebreaker presence on the top end of the Earth. That’s an unacceptable situation that could be, at long last, heading for improvement.

The Coast Guard last year announced plans to build three icebreakers, though nothing was going to happen to that plan without Congress providing the funding. Alaska’s congressional delegation has long been pushing for a stronger presence in the Arctic and has been working to convince others in Congress that icebreakers are a national concern, not just an Alaska issue.

Congress took another big step forward on that matter Monday with Senate passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, a mammoth piece of legislation that increases the scale of the nation’s missile defense system, increases the size of the Army and Marines, provides funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and contains numerous other items — including construction of six icebreakers.

The vote wasn’t close: 89-8.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, who worked on securing icebreakers in the legislation, called it “the largest single authorization of icebreakers ever.”

There’s still a ways to go, though, and icebreakers aren’t cheap, carrying a price tag of about $1 billion apiece. Senate passage of the National Defense Authorization Act is only one half of the process; the Senate will have to vote on separate legislation to actually allocate the funding that the defense act authorizes. That effort will be aided by the presence of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who also been working on the need for more icebreakers, on the Senate Appropriations Committee

The House passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act in July, including language worked on by Rep. Don Young that allows the Coast Guard to partner with the Navy to acquire three new medium-class icebreakers and three new heavy-class icebreakers. The overall House and Senate bills will need to be reconciled before being sent to President Donald Trump for signing, but it’s encouraging to see the general agreement between the two chambers on the subject of icebreakers.

The need for Arctic icebreakers is clear and nonpartisan, evidenced by comments made by then-President Barack Obama during his 2015 visit to Alaska. In Seward, Mr. Obama proposed building more icebreakers and speeding up their acquisition.

Momentum is building for the U.S. to at last have a fleet of icebreakers. Two ships, one of which regularly is on the bottom pole of the planet, has proved to be grossly inadequate for the rapidly advancing race for the Arctic.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

Sept. 20

More in Opinion

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink promotes getting immunized with the flu shot this winter. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Health and Social Services)
Immunize when you winterize

An annual flu shot plus the COVID-19 vaccine protects Alaskans and our health care system, too.

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Dunleavy’s first act as governor was unconstitutional

That’s according to a ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge John Sedwick.

This Aug. 3, 2021, photo shows Juneau International Airport.  The Federal Aviation Administration shared recommendations on Thursday for improving aviation safety in the state. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: How the FAA will improve the margin of aviation safety in Alaska

Alaska depends on aviation more than any other state…

Central Peninsula Hospital is seen in Soldotna on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Perspective of an educator in a ‘high-risk’ group, part 2

During some of the darkest days of my time in ICU, it was obvious where we all live is a special place.

Lawmakers havereturned to the Alaska State Capitol for a fourth special session. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Revenues should be determined before more PFD spending

The governor believes the dividend drives the entire calculation. Sadly, he has it backwards

Ronnie Leach. (Photo provided)
Point of View: For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, #weareresilient

At the onset of COVID-19, we expanded our services in a way to ensure COVID-19 consciousness.

Rep. Don Young talks during a June 2021 interview with the Empire. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion:Where’s Don Young when America needs him?

Once upon a time, avoiding political controversy was completely out of character for Young.

Peter Zuyus
Voices of the Peninsula: Seniors appreciate vaccination efforts

To those who have worked to encourage vaccination we say: Be proud, you are, in fact, saving lives.

Jackson Blackwell (courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: Carbon dividends are the bipartisan climate solution

By levying a gradually increasing price on carbon, U.S. emissions will be slashed by 50% in 15 years.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Dunleavy: Facts Matter

Political opportunists care more about spreading political untruths than accepting the facts.

Steve Hughes. (Photo provided)
Voices of the Peninsula: We are all victims of COVID-19

It is disturbing to hear, as a triage nurse, the many reasons cited for not getting a vaccine that are based on misinformation.

teaser
Opinion: LGBTQ+ Alaskans deserve respect and dignity

Like every state that lacks equality, we need federal protection.