Email Article

Posted: September 16, 2021

Funding for 'new and needed' Great Lakes heavy icebreaker included in reconciliation proposal


On September 15, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), the co-chair of the bipartisan House of Representatives Great Lakes Task Force, reported the $60 billion reconciliation bill approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee included her request for $350 million in funding for a state-of-the-art Great Lakes heavy icebreaker for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's bill will now be considered by the full House of Representatives as part of the overall $3.5 trillion reconciliation proposal. If passed as part of the full reconciliation bill, the addition of a new heavy icebreaker will double the Coast Guard's capacity to clear Great Lakes shipping lanes of ice. Currently, the Coast Guard's Great Lakes District commands only one heavy icebreaker, the USCGC Mackinaw, for its service area encompassing all the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The acquisition of a "new and needed" heavy icebreaker for the U.S. Coast Guard's mission on the Great Lakes has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.

In July, the bipartisan leadership of the House Great Lakes Task Force wrote to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging them to support full funding for a new heavy icebreaker on the Great Lakes.

"Over the past several decades, the United States Coast Guard's (USCG) Great Lakes icebreaking fleet has declined in size and high-end capability. At the same time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that heavy ice years will remain an inevitability in the region, which means that the Great Lakes will see regular recurring heavy ice years moving forward. With only one heavy Great Lakes icebreaker, only waterways on one side of the Soo Locks can be broken," stated Task Force Co-Chairs Rep. Kaptur, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. David Joyce (R-OH).

"Providing for an additional Great Lakes heavy icebreaker will ensure robust economic opportunity in the region, which generates a combined $6 trillion of economic activity. The U.S. steel manufacturing industry, a sector critical to national security, is centered in the Great Lakes, and depends on maritime transportation to move iron ore from ports in western Lake Superior to steel mills across the basin. Great Lakes waterborne commerce annually supports more than 147,000 jobs in eight Great Lakes states and generates $20.3 billion in business revenue."

Following the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's approval of the funding for a new Great Lakes heavy icebreaker, Rep. Kaptur stated: "Our nation's defensive capabilities, manufacturing industries, and economic vitality depend on the ability of vessels to reliably, safely, and efficiently navigate the more than 2,000 miles of shipping lanes of the Great Lakes region. This substantial new federal investment will support the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely upon these waterways, and ensure our communities are able to continue serving as America's industrial workhorses. We thank Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio for his leadership to address the needs of the Great Lakes, and look forward to working with our House and Senate colleagues to urge passage of this critical priority."

The inclusion of funding for a Great Lakes heavy icebreaker in the reconciliation proposal being considered by the House of Representatives was immediately welcomed by all aspects of Great Lakes maritime labor and industry, which have long advocated for the necessary bolstering of the U.S. Coast Guard's domestic icebreaking mission and capabilities.

"We are very pleased with this large step toward significant progress in maintaining navigable commercial shipping lanes on the Lakes for a greater part of each year. A new and needed heavy icebreaker is crucial to U.S. commerce and will extend the ability of U.S.-flagged lakers to deliver the materials that fuel American manufacturing. AMO and American Maritime Officers Service will continue working together with members of Congress and our labor and industry partners on the task force to see this through to completion," said American Maritime Officers National Vice President, Great Lakes, John Clemons, who serves as president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force - the largest coalition speaking for the Great Lakes shipping community, drawing its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.-flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards, and other Great Lakes interests.

"The SIU is very pleased to see funding for Great Lakes icebreaking being included in the package that was marked up today," said President of the Seafarers International Union Michael Sacco on September 15. "This is a critical safety issue for our members on the Great Lakes, and we are looking forward to seeing this funding being enacted into law."

In March of this year, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) with a bipartisan group of Great Lakes House members - including U.S. Representatives Kaptur, Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Dingell, Joyce, Gwen Moore (D-WI), Jack Bergman (R-MI), Huizenga, Pete Stauber (R-MN) and Lisa McClain (R-MI) - introduced the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act of 2021, which would among other things provide $350 million for a new heavy icebreaker on the Great Lakes.

The construction of a new heavy icebreaker has solid support in the U.S. Senate, as well - a priority emphasized by senators representing Great Lakes states. In a letter authored in January 2020, Michigan Democratic Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow were joined by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Todd Young (R-IN) in urging the previous administration to include funding for the acquisition of a new Great Lakes icebreaker in its 2021 budget proposal.

"The Coast Guard is required by law to maintain a heavy icebreaking capability on the Great Lakes to keep our region's ports and harbors open and facilitate our nation's free flow of commerce," the senators wrote. "However, the current maintenance condition of the existing icebreaking fleet has resulted in 182 lost operating days last winter primarily due to engine failures. To this end, Congress has authorized the Coast Guard to acquire a new Great Lakes icebreaker at least as capable as the heavy icebreaker the MACKINAW (WLBB-30), and has directed and provided funding for the Coast Guard to establish a major program acquisition office to support the design and procurement of a vessel."