The Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard made an appeal to lawmakers Wednesday for a much-needed increase in funding to sustain the strain placed on their resources created by the 2017 hurricane season.
The Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmospheres, Fisheris, and Coast Guard held a hearing Wednesday with the purpose of examining the role of the Coast Guard in preparing for these natural disasters.
Chairman of the Subcommittee Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, opened the meeting by addressing the work of the Coast Guard during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
“The recent hurricanes that have made landfall this year, have significantly stretched the coast guards service capabilities,” Sullivan said. “In these three disasters alone, the Coast Guard has rescued 11,000 Americans utilizing 95 aircraft, 55 cutters, 129 rescue craft, and mobilized at least 3,000 additional personnel.”
Ranking Member Sen. Gary Peters, D- Mich., cautioned the 2017 hurricane season is just one season and that “winter is coming,” borrowing the phrase from HBO hit show “Game of Thrones.”
“I want to emphasize that the coast guard’s missions will not stop because the weather is getting colder,” Peters said. “If we do not ensure that service members have the right equipment. If we do not ensure that they are being taken care of in terms of retirement and medical benefits then we are not doing our job.”
During the testimony of U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft, he explained that the recent extreme weather response was truly an “all-hands-on-deck” campaign that cost them in terms of readiness, opportunity and monetarily.
"Based upon Harvey, Irma and Maria alone, we need nearly a billion dollars to rebuild damaged infrastructure and restore eroded readiness. Of the three categories, this is my greatest concern. It is compounded by previous events,” Zukunft said.
“Given the many kinds of competing demands in our country today and the propensity to fix only what is broken, I am concerned the coast guard will continue to be known solely for our success and not what we need to be made whole," the Admiral added
Zukunft then asked lawmakers to increase the Coast Guards funding annually by 5 percent in their growth and maintenance accounts and a $2 billion minimum in funding for their acquisition account. Some of the $2 billion in funding would be used to reduce the $1.6 billion in infrastructure backlog, some of which was incurred during Hurricane Matthew. He also emphasized the need to allocate some of that money for ice breaker ships.
“They [Russia] have laid a claim for the Arctic Ocean through the procedures under the law of the sea convention. And this is a part of the world where we know there are rich resources, oils, gas, minerals on the sea floor,” Zukunft said. “The treaty in Antarctica as it expires, I would not be surprised if China looks to extract resources from Antarctica and now you’ve got a land grab going on in some of these locations.”
Asked by the committee if the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017 would help improve the U.S. Coast Guards current situation, Zukunft replied, "Absolutely critical. I support the work of this committee to make that a hardened reality.”