The Coast Guard plays a huge role in Alaska, so any time Congress works on a bill affecting the agency, there's a good chance Alaska has a big stake in the outcome. That's the case with the Coast Guard's 2010 authorization bill, which recently passed the House. Alaska Rep. Don Young helped get many useful directives included in the measure. Some of the good news for Alaska hasn't gotten much public attention. But residents and visitors in Juneau will surely notice, some day in the future, when the historic Coast Guard cutter Storis is berthed there as a maritime museum. Once the cutter is decommissioned, the bill says it will be donated to a Juneau maritime history group.
Melting ice in the Arctic means the Coast Guard has to keep an eye on a lot more water and shipping traffic around Alaska. The House measure directs the agency to study what kind of expanded presence it may need in Arctic waters. Another helpful study called for in the bill is a formal "risk assessment" of shipping in Cook Inlet. Home to Alaska's original oil industry, and beset by strong tides that complicate navigation, Cook Inlet has seen mishaps involving tankers and service vessels. The comprehensive look at shipping issues in the Inlet should help avoid repeat incidents and more serious trouble.
Air pollution from ships is a growing concern in ports across the nation. Some Alaska ports host huge cruise ships that are floating cities and have engines capable of cranking out large volumes of pollutants. Their engines may be left running while in port, to supply power to the ship, which can degrade local air quality. The House measure directs the Coast Guard to check out technologies that could cut pollution from ships in U.S. waters.
Alaska's still-dangerous fishing industry gets some attention in the bill as well. The Coast Guard will get inspection powers similar to those recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board. For new fishing vessels, Coast Guard scrutiny of a vessel's seaworthiness will start right away. For existing fishing boats, there's a 10 year grace period. In the meantime, the Coast Guard will develop alternative standards for those older fishing boats, most of which can't meet strict codes imposed on newly built vessels.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.