Congress Passes Bill to Save Newport Air Station, Fund Coast Guard Operations
Washington, D.C. – Today, the House passed H.R. 4188, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, which included language that will keep the Newport air facility open for at least two years. The House was required to again pass the legislation after the Senate adopted the bill with amendments in December. The legislation now heads to the President’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law.
“After some back and forth between the House and the Senate, I am happy to say Congress finally passed the Coast Guard Authorization Act, which includes language to keep the critical Newport Air Station open and serving the Oregon Coast for at least another two years and likely much longer. If, after two years, the Coast Guard wants to close the station it will have to jump through significant additional hoops, essentially ensuring that the Coast Guard’s Newport Air Facility remains open for a long time to come. Maintaining a strong Coast Guard presence all along the Oregon coast is critical to the safety and security of our coastal communities,” said Ranking Member DeFazio.
The legislation also provides two years of funding for the United States Coast Guard. DeFazio was a key negotiator and co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation.
“For more than 100 years, the Coast Guard has kept our ports and waterways secure, protected our shores and communities, and responded to disasters and emergencies affecting our mariners, fishermen, and the general public,” said DeFazio. “This two year reauthorization will provide the Coast Guard with the resources and assets necessary to carry out its missions. It will build up our fleet of essential offshore cutters, and it will finally authorize the design of another critical heavy icebreaker necessary to provide safe passage in the Arctic. I commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for working diligently to pass this bipartisan legislation.”
COAST GUARD BACKGROUND
Due to budget cuts, the Coast Guard threatened in 2014 to close the Newport air facility-- which handles half of the emergency response calls on the Central Oregon Coast. The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 authorizes Coast Guard and Federal Maritime Commission funding levels for two years, and includes provisions to improve Coast Guard mission effectiveness, help modernize the Service’s aging vessels and other assets, and reform U.S. maritime transportation laws. The original House version of the bill (H.R. 1987) was introduced by Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), along with Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Ranking Member John Garamendi (D-CA). The final air facility language was agreed to during negotiations with the Senate Commerce Committee and included in an updated Coast Guard Authorization Act (H.R. 4188). Today the House passed H.R. 4188 with Senate amendments.
That language included in H.R. 4188 extends the prohibition on the closure of any Coast Guard facility for two additional years until January 1, 2018. After that date, the Coast Guard may only close an air facility if:
- The Secretary of Homeland Security submits to Congress plans to continue to offer adequate protection to our coasts as they retire and replace outdated helicopters.
- The Secretary can clearly demonstrate that:
- remaining search and rescue capabilities will maintain the safety of the public in the area;
- weather and marine conditions, including water temperatures and unusual tides, do not require continued operation of the air facility; and
- standard search and rescue response times will continue to be met;
- The Secretary convenes public meetings in communities in the air facility’s service area to allow for public input on any proposed closure; and
- Prior to closure or a reduction in services, the Secretary must submit to Congress in the President’s budget request any proposal for closure, cessation, or reductions in operations. Once the budget request is submitted, the Coast Guard has 7 days to provide explicit written notice to Congress.
Newport is home to one of Oregon’s three deep draft ports, the state’s largest grossing commercial fishing fleet, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Operations Center, Oregon State University research personnel and vessels, and a robust recreational and sport fishing industry that is critical to the local economy. The Oregon delegation successfully passed legislation in 2014 that prevented closure until January 1, 2016. The legislation passed today will extend that prohibition until at least January 1, 2018.