[Congressional Record Volume 164, Number 180 (Wednesday, November 14, 2018)]
[Pages S6938-S6940]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]


  Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, as the Presiding Officer entered the 
Chamber and took the Chair, I was explaining to Members what the Coast 
Guard does--all the various vital activities they do to provide for the 
safety and security of Americans. Let me tell my colleagues just a few 
things this bill does. The distinguished majority leader was discussing 
this in his remarks also.
  This bill that we are about to vote on takes big steps in 
recapitalizing our vessel fleet. I am proud to say that shipbuilders 
across the country, including in my State of Mississippi, are 
rebuilding our fleet. In Mississippi, we have built six national 
security cutters that are currently operational. The seventh and eighth 
ships have been built and are scheduled to be commissioned next year. 
These ships are some of the most technologically advanced vessels in 
the world.
  The Coast Guard needs more modern national security cutters to combat 
transnational organized crime. These cutters make up the backbone of 
this effort, and, as we know, the criminals who undermine our borders 
and our Nation's social and political development are not contained by 
  In addition, the Coast Guard bill recognizes the importance of 
national security cutters by authorizing multiyear contracts that will 
lead to procurement of a 10th, 11th, and 12th vessel. So we are making 
great progress there. These cutters are highly advanced patrol boats 
that could deploy independently for a number of missions along our 
ports, waterways, and coasts.
  In addition, the bill does not overlook the Coast Guard's shoreline 
infrastructure, instead authorizing more than $170 million for these 
facilities. This includes steps to repair and replace its aging rotary-
wing aircraft.
  Other provisions in the bill would clarify the Coast Guard's role in 
national security as a member of our Armed Forces, and they are and 
should be clarified as a member of the Armed Forces; establish a land-
based, unmanned aircraft system program; help modernize the Coast 
Guard's healthcare system; enable block-buy contracts for ship 
acquisition; and conduct an advanced maintenance program for the Polar 
Star, our only

[[Page S6939]]

heavy polar icebreaker. Our sole icebreaker is now 42 years old and 12 
years past its intended service life. So this will allow us to pay more 
attention to the Arctic.
  Finally, let me stress to my colleagues and once again express 
appreciation to the leadership of the committee that we are finally 
passing the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, known as VIDA, which 
provides much needed relief to our commercial vessel industry. This 
relief would come through a single, science-based national standard for 
ballast water discharge and other vessel discharges. These discharges 
must take place; it is just a question of what the regulation is and 
how we take care of our economy and our environment.
  Currently, commercial vessel owners are obligated to meet standards 
from the Coast Guard, standards from the EPA, and standards from 25 
individual States. This can mean spending millions of dollars to 
install equipment, which may or may not ensure compliance with these 
regulations. Such burdens have put a strain on U.S. businesses and U.S. 
commerce. This bill will give us one nationwide standard, lifting the 
burden off of these businesses and lifting the burden off of people who 
would like to actually get out there and create more jobs instead of 
comply with a myriad of various regulations.
  Under VIDA, the Coast Guard would be the lead agency to enforce these 
regulations, but it will also do this in consultation with EPA. In 
other words, VIDA uses the expertise of both of these excellent 
agencies, the Coast Guard and the EPA, and leverages the expertise of 
both agencies. It is quite an achievement.
  I see my friend from Florida here. He may want me to yield on this 
question. But there has been a bipartisan effort, and the bipartisan 
vote yesterday was quite gratifying.
  Again, thank you to Chairman Thune, thank you to Senator Sullivan, 
and thank you to my friends on the other side of the aisle for making 
this bipartisan, long-range effort finally come to fruition this 
  Mr. NELSON. Would the Senator yield?
  Mr. WICKER. I would be delighted to yield to my friend.
  Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, this is an example of where the Senate can 
get something done. There were many twists and turns to the Coast Guard 
bill, but at the end of the day, we all came together in a bipartisan 
way to get it done, and I thank the Senator from Mississippi.
  Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, reclaiming my time, I thank the Senator 
from Florida for making those points and for his leadership as ranking 
member of the Commerce Committee. In this regard, I suggest the vote 
coming up soon will be probably as lopsided as the one on cloture 
yesterday. That is a good sign. It took us a while to get there, I 
would say to my friend from Florida, but we are there now, and it is a 
great achievement for our economy, for the environment, and for the 
Coast Guard as a whole.
  Mr. President, I yield the floor.
  Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise to express my opposition to S. 140, 
the Coast Guard reauthorization bill, because it prevents State 
regulation of the discharge of pollutants from vessels engaged in 
maritime commerce and because it exempts one certain vessel from 
current fire safety standards.
  First, the bill includes a provision, known as the Vessel Incidental 
Discharge Act, which would dictate how ballast water from ships is 
regulated in the United States. While I appreciate the hard work of the 
Senate Committees on Commerce, Science and Transportation and 
Environment and Public Works and their commitment to bipartisan 
negotiation on this issue, I unfortunately cannot support a bill that 
includes the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, even as currently 
modified. The problem is that this provision preempts Maryland's 
authority to set standards on the discharge of ballast water from ships 
that are more protective of the Chesapeake Bay than the standards set 
by the Federal Government.
  Ballast water can contain invasive species like blue catfish and 
zebra mussels, among a host of others, that threaten the delicate 
balance of life in the bay. The Chesapeake Bay is the Nation's largest 
estuary. It generates $1 trillion in economic benefit to the watershed 
region. The shoreline of the Chesapeake and its tidal tributaries 
stretches for over 2,000 miles. More than 100,000 streams and rivers 
and thousands of acres of wetlands provide the freshwater that flows 
into the Chesapeake Bay. If we do not protect the health of this 
incredible network of waters, we cannot hope to restore the Chesapeake 
Bay to its former glory.
  Fortunately, the health of the bay is improving. According to the 
latest report card from the University of Maryland Center for 
Environmental Science, the bay earned a C grade, signifying the first 
time that score is meaningfully trending in the right direction and 
that restoration efforts are beginning to have an enduring impact.
  Additionally, the effort to clean up and restore the bay creates new 
job and economic growth opportunities around the bay States. For 
example, the watermen that depend on healthy populations of blue crab, 
oysters, menhaden, and rockfish--for striped bass--depend on those 
species not being out-competed for food or eaten by invasive species. 
People throughout the watershed depend on the bay for their livelihoods 
and for recreation.
  Though we in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are making great strides in 
improving the quality of the Chesapeake Bay, we still have a long way 
to go. The last thing the bay and the people who depend on it need now 
is the additional stress of invasive species.
  Furthermore, this bill includes a provision that would exempt one 
vessel from current fire safety standards, another provision by which I 
cannot abide.
  A series of fires aboard international passenger ships in the early 
1960s prompted the U.S. to enact the Safety of Life at Sea Act, SOLAS, 
which mandated that ``no passenger vessel of the United States shall be 
granted a certificate of inspection [. . .] unless the vessel is 
constructed of fire-retardant materials.'' Despite the enactment of the 
SOLAS standards and the opposition of the U.S. Coast Guard, Congress 
has repeatedly exempted one ship, the Delta Queen, from the SOLAS fire 
safety standards.
  Current law requires passenger vessels with overnight accommodations 
for 50 or more passengers to be constructed of fire-retardant 
materials, unless an exemption is made, but in the case of the Delta 
Queen, the U.S. Coast Guard has consistently opposed legislation to 
provide the Delta Queen an exemption to remain in service as an 
overnight passenger cruise vessel.
  A Coast Guard special inspection report on the Delta Queen in 2008 
found ``an unnecessary and unacceptable accumulation of combustible 
fire load.'' In a January 8, 2016, letter to Senator Bill Nelson, the 
Coast Guard's then Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs wrote 
``the Department of Homeland Security is resigned to oppose 
continuously any legislation that would provide any form of statutory 
relief for the steamer Delta Queen.''
  Section 834 of this bill is contrary to public safety. It is contrary 
to the Safety of Life at Sea Act regulations which have been in full 
force in the U.S. since 1966, and it is contrary to the guidance of the 
U.S. Coast Guard.
  The Delta Queen is an old ship made of wood. The boilers are original 
and open to the wood superstructure. There are no structural boundaries 
to contain a fire and only one means of egress.
  I understand that supporters of this provision are concerned about 
the historic preservation of this ship and the economic opportunities 
that operation of the ship could bring to its homeport, but we should 
be concerned first and foremost with the safety of the people who will 
work on the ship and vacation on the ship. They can have the same 
opportunities and experiences on a ship that is compliant with the 
reasonable safety standards that have been in place in this country for 
more than 50 years.
  Mr. VAN HOLLEN. Mr. President, today the Senate will complete work on 
a new 2-year authorization for the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal 
Maritime Commission, and on regulations related to vessel discharges 
and other matters.
  This bill is intended to give our Coast Guard the certainty it needs 
to operate in a constantly changing environment, and I appreciate the 
significant bipartisan work that has gone into the legislation we vote 
on today. Maryland is

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home to the Coast Guard yard in Curtis Bay, our Nation's facility for 
maintaining and repairing the Coast Guard fleet, and I am proud of the 
work they do every day to support the security of our Nation and ships 
at sea. However, I remain concerned with title IV of this bill, the 
Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, VIDA, which would regulate ballast 
water discharge from ships in the United States. While these provisions 
have improved since they were first brought to the floor, the title 
continues to preempt State authority on ballast water discharge from 
ships. The State of Maryland currently has a more protective standard 
that is critical to maintaining a healthy Chesapeake Bay. The 
Chesapeake Bay Watershed is enormous: 64,000 square miles, part of six 
States and the entire District of Columbia, and almost 18 million 
  The Chesapeake Bay is one of Maryland's crown jewels, and it is of 
upmost importance to me that we continue the progress in cleaning up 
the bay. The Chesapeake Bay is a delicate ecosystem that is 
particularly sensitive to invasive species that can be spread through 
ballast water discharge. These invasive species could compete with our 
native species in the bay like blue crab, oysters, and striped bass.
  There are many provisions of this bill that I will support through 
the conference process, including additional funding for operating 
expenses and acquisition funding and $30 million for environmental 
compliance and restoration. The Coast Guard yard in Curtis Bay is 
currently on EPA's National Priorities List and the Coast Guard's 
priority list and is eligible for this funding.
  The bill also includes a provision that allows for incentive payments 
to go to Curtis Bay's wage-grade employees who demonstrate improvements 
in performance or delivery during a project.
  I hope to gain clarity on section 310 of the bill, which claims to 
provide more flexibility to choose where ship alterations or repairs 
can occur. I am concerned that this provision may have unintended 
consequences in certain situations, particularly with respect to the 
Coast Guard yard. As this bill moves to conference and eventually the 
President, I hope to work with my colleagues to clear up this provision 
and will continue to advocate for the rights of States like Maryland to 
protect their clean water.
  I will vote no today, but believe that we can continue to improve 
this bill in the conference process. I look forward to working with my 
colleagues to do so.