President Obama on Tuesday will propose speeding the acquisition and building of new Coast Guard icebreakers that can operate year-round in the nation’s polar regions, part of an effort to close the gap between the United States and other nations, especially Russia, in a global competition to gain a foothold in the rapidly changing Arctic.
On the second day of a three-day trip to Alaska to highlight the challenge of climate change and call for a worldwide effort to address its root causes, Mr. Obama’s proposals will touch on one of its most profound effects. The retreat of Arctic sea ice has created opportunities for shipping, tourism, mineral exploration and fishing — and with it, a rush of marine traffic that is bringing new difficulties.
“Arctic ecosystems are among the most pristine and understudied in the world, meaning increased commercial activity comes with significant risks to the environment,” the White House said in a fact sheet issued in advance of an announcement by Mr. Obama in Seward, where he planned to hike to Exit Glacier on Tuesday and tour Kenai Fjords National Park by boat.
“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the statement said.
The aging Coast Guard fleet is not keeping pace with the challenge, the administration acknowledged, noting that the service has the equivalent of just two “fully functional” heavy icebreakers at its disposal, down from seven during World War II. Russia, by contrast, has 41 of the vessels, with plans for 11 more. China unveiled a refurbished icebreaker in 2012 and is building another.
Mr. Obama will propose speeding up the acquisition of a replacement icebreaker that had been planned for 2022, setting a new date of 2020, the White House said. He will also propose that planning begin on the construction of new ones, asking Congress to provide “sufficient resources” to fund them.
SOURCE: JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
The New York Times