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April 16, 2014 at 6:45 AM

Build icebreakers to protect U.S. interests in the Arctic

The Polar Sea returnig to port in 2010. (AP Photo/Ted s. Warren)

The Polar Sea returning to port in 2010.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Republicans in Congress are toting extra heavy campaign baggage as they head into the 2014 election season, and look beyond to 2016. They have virtually no legislative achievements or profile beyond being an impediment.

In its desperate attempt to find bipartisan issues to help tout a constructive role, the GOP should embrace modernizing the U.S. icebreaker fleet to protect American interests in the Arctic.

Conditions in the Arctic are changing, and one does not have to look too far ahead to imagine the fabled Northwest Passage becoming a reality for a portion of the year. It has to do with, you know, that climate change thing. If Republicans can get beyond that, the other reality is a time-saving shipping route that is attracting global attention.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, are working their respective chambers to sustain federal funds to refurbish the Polar Sea icebreaker, and keep the U.S. Coast Guard working on the design of a new icebreaker. Granted the topic can be pretty obscure for their land-locked colleagues, but the issues are basic for the security of the country.

The Polar Sea, idled in a Seattle shipyard, was taken out of action by massive engine failures. The Coast Guard has the recently refurbished Polar Star and the Healy, a medium icebreaker and research vessel. The Coast Guard needs options and they are well-described in a March 28 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Even the Polar Star is estimated to have another seven to 10 years of service, about the time the Polar Sea would be ready. That still only gives the Coast Guard two icebreakers, without construction of a new vessel.

This is a basic federal investment in a basic mission to protect U.S. sovereignty, security and economic interests. And to support U.S. maritime activities and enforce U.S. laws. Nothing could be more bipartisan and worthy of support by Republicans and Democrats.

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