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Mon Dec 3, 2018, 04:30 PM

U.S. needs new Arctic icebreakers. Will Trump's border wall get in the way?

The American icebreaker fleet is in a perilous state, with only two operational polar icebreakers. Equipped with strengthened hulls, they are charged with gathering scientific data, rescuing ships stuck in ice and responding to oil spills in the most remote parts of the globe. They also protect U.S. interests in the vast polar regions, where climate change is melting sea ice opening the Arctic to new commercial opportunities while also raising military tensions.

Just one of the two U.S. icebreakers the Polar Star can break the thickest ice, and it's 12 years past its expected end of life. The Coast Guard's most recent review found that it needs six new icebreakers to fulfill its mission, and that it needs one delivered as soon as possible to replace the Polar Star. It will take years to design and build replacement icebreakers, which will cost billions of dollars.

Despite decades of warnings from studies and blunt congressional testimony, and considerable bipartisan political support, progress has been painfully slow. Efforts to grow the icebreaker fleet began under the Obama administration, and, in a rare example of continuity, gained momentum under President Donald Trump, who proposed $750 million for a new ship, which the Senate approved earlier this year.

But over the summer, heading into midterms, the House stripped that funding and diverted it to another presidential priority: the construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Now, lawmakers returning for a lame-duck session must decide how the money will be spent; Congress has until Dec. 7 to finalize the budget or face a partial government shutdown.


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