US senators to introduce bipartisan Great Lakes winter commerce act

The US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy in 2018 (Photo: US Coast Guard/Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi)

US Senators Tammy Baldwin, Todd Young, and Gary Peters are introducing the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act, bipartisan legislation that will codify the US Coast Guard’s icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes and increase the icebreaking capacity of the Great Lakes fleet.

A study commissioned by the Lake Carriers’ Association found that during the 2018-2019 ice-season, businesses that depend upon the Great Lakes maritime industry lost over US$1 billion in revenues because of delays caused by inadequate icebreaking.

The senators’ bipartisan bill would update the coast guard’s outdated Great Lakes icebreaking mission and increase the icebreaking capacity of the Great Lakes fleet. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Codifies into law the coast guard’s icebreaking mission in the Great Lakes. This requires the coast guard to break ice in the Great Lakes in accordance with the reasonable demands of commerce set forth in the bill. The standards derive from a 1997 coast guard study outlining icebreaking requirements on the Great Lakes. They are written to allow the coast guard to size its icebreaker fleet to be capable of handling the vast majority of ice seasons while limiting excess capacity. The bill includes a one-time report on the operating costs associated with this new performance standard.
  • Requires the coast guard to report to Congress on the icebreaking season. This requires an annual report of coast guard activities during the previous winter’s icebreaking activities.
  • Requires the coast guard to coordinate with industry for icebreaking operations.
  • Requires the coast guard to prioritise the domestic icebreaking mission before breaking ice for Canadian harbours or bays, but allows for exceptions for missions related to safety of life.

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