(Updated 11/11/18) This bill has been amended to serve as the legislative vehicle for a two-year reauthorization of the Coast Guard, in addition to establishing a national standard governing water discharges from ships' ballasts, which are currently regulated by a mixture of federal & state rules. In its previous form the bill reformed labor law on tribal lands (which was removed by the Senate’s amendment), and allowed the White Mountain Apache tribe to use funds to build a rural water system. A summary of the current bill’s provisions can be found below.
Coast Guard Authorization
This part of the bill would authorize funding for Coast Guard activities totalling $9.8 billion in FY2018 and $10.5 billion in FY2019. Operating expenses would total $7.2 billion in FY2018 and $7.9 billion in FY2019. Procurement, construction, renovation, and other improvements would total $2.6 billion in both FY2018 and FY2019. The active duty Coast Guard end strength would total 44,500 personnel.
The Coast Guard would be authorized to build an icebreaker for use on the Great Lakes and build three additional fast response cutters at a cost of $167.5 million over each of the next two years. The Polar Star heavy icebreaker would undergo an enhanced maintenance program to maintain icebreaking capabilities until new icebreakers are complete. Investments in shoreside infrastructrure would total $167.5 million in both FY2018 and FY2019, while $3.5 million would go to aircraft improvements each year.
Other notable provisions of the Coast Guard portion of this bill would include:
Coast Guard members would be able to take parental leave following birth or adoption incrementally or they can use flexible work schedules at the discretion of their commanding officer.
The Coast Guard would be authorized to take action against an unmanned aircraft posing a threat to Coast Guard, military, and other vessels.
The Coast Guard would conduct a study of the feasibility of creating an ROTC program.
The Coast Guard would report to Congress on the assets it has for an oil spill response in the Arctic.
The Coast Guard would be authorized to issue regulations to “promote the safety of life on navigable waters during regattas or marine parades.”
Vessel Incidental Discharge Act
Ships take in water from coastal port areas and hold it in their ballasts during transit to help maintain ballast, and during their normal operations discharge this ballast water — which can contain aquatic nuisance species or invasive species. This part of the bill would authorize the Coast Guard to be the lead agency in regulating vessel discharges and establish a uniform set of national standards, as those discharges are currently governed by a complex patchwork of state and federal rules. Under the new framework a process would be available for states to establish no-discharge zones if the state determines that stricter requirements are needed to enhance its waters.
Existing regulations would remain in place during a transition period to the new rules, which would prohibit ship operators from discharging ballast water in navigable U.S. waters unless it’s done in accordance with the standards developed by the Coast Guard.
In the case of ships entering the Saint Lawrence River and Hudson River, they’d be required to discharge their ballast offshore — exactly how far offshore would be based on whether they’ve operated outside of the exclusive economic zones of the U.S. and Canada. For ships along the Pacific Coast, they’d be required to exchange ballast water 50 nautical miles offshore. The Coast Guard and Homeland Security would work with the EPA to develop ballast standards for ships 79 feet or longer operating in the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River.
The ballast water standards would be reviewed and assessed for potential changes to account for new technologies by January 1, 2024.
This bill would also clarify that the White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT) is authorized to use funds from the $79 million WMAT settlement fund to plan, design, and build a rural water system.