Klobuchar secures Coast Guard Commandant nominee’s commitment to prioritize acquiring a second icebreaker for Great Lakes ports


WASHINGTON – At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing to consider the nomination of Admiral Linda Fagan to be U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, U.S Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the critical role of Coast Guard cutters and icebreakers in Duluth. 

Klobuchar underscored how cutters and icebreakers help boost the regional economy by making it easier for ships at the Port of Duluth to “transport goods to the rest of the world and bring [products] in the Upper Midwest.” Admiral Fagan committed that the Coast Guard would prioritize acquiring a second icebreaker to “ensure access to the critical ports in the Great Lakes, particularly during the winter, challenging winter months.”

Klobuchar also highlighted how port congestion and shipping backlogs have slowed supply chains and posed a challenge to Coast Guard operations, pointing to her bipartisan legislation to fix supply chains and ease shipping backlogs. The Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which Klobuchar introduced with Senator John Thune (R-SD), passed the Senate unanimously last month. 

Klobuchar has long worked to secure critical resources for the Port of Duluth. Last week, Klobuchar visited the Port to celebrate the arrival of the new Coast Guard cutter SPAR. In February, she announced significant federal funding to help increase capacity and enable necessary repairs at the Port. 

In 2020, Klobuchar joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to urge the Trump administration to include adequate funding for the Coast Guard to acquire a second Great Lakes icebreaker. 

Klobuchar’s full exchange is available below, for TV download HERE and for online viewing HERE.

Klobuchar: Thank you very much, Senator Cantwell, Senator Wicker for holding this important hearing and I'm very excited by your nomination, Admiral. We spoke yesterday and we talked about the fact that my state includes the Port of Duluth. I was just actually there, as I mentioned, last week at the Duluth Coast Guard station at the Port of Duluth with Lieutenant Commander Joel Wright, and we are very excited about the new cutter SPAR, which is, as you know, named after the US Coast Guard Women's Reserve that was so active in World War Two. But a big part of our world up there, and we've got more than 35 million tons of cargo moving through the Port of Duluth each year. When it comes to the Great Lakes, actually, that port is the largest port by tonnage and one of the nation's top 20 ports, so we always find a way to be number one, and that is tonnage. So in your testimony and in our discussions, you mentioned your commitment to our nation's icebreaking fleet and the work in keeping the Great Lakes ports open and safe. Do you have the necessary resources and could you talk about the importance of these ice cutters for transporting goods to the rest of the world and bringing things in, in the upper Midwest?

Admiral Fagan: Thank you, Senator. I am committed to fielding the icebreaking capacity that we need as a nation, particularly as it pertains to the Great Lakes and the waterway inland waterways system. Our priority is an icebreaker that is at least as capable as the current Mackinaw and we are working the requirements document for that investment and look forward to working with the committee to ensure that we're on a timeline to begin the acquisition of a cutter to ensure access to the critical ports in the Great Lakes, particularly during the winter, challenging winter months. That icebreaker is part of the system and again just look forward to having that conversation with the committee and we're committed as a priority to a heavy icebreaker in the Great Lakes. 

Klobuchar: Okay, just with the supply chain issues, Senator Thune and I've just passed a bill out of the Senate on this. Not going to focus on that right now. But what are some of your big challenges the Coast Guard is facing when trying to manage shipping vessels. There's been congestion, as we know at some of the ports and what more should Congress be doing.

Admiral Fagan: Thank you. We're all familiar with the congestion particularly congestion that was experienced along the ports on the West Coast and the Coast Guard you know, in our roles as Captain of the Port, to ensure that the safety and security of our waterways has been working with the port community to reduce that congestion by getting earlier notice of ships’ departures. So that time can be adjusted and they arrived just in time for their berth and not needing to queue for extended periods of time. We've got a great set of authorities, a great set of port partners around the country, and are committed to ensuring the reliable safety operation of our American maritime transportation system.

Klobuchar: As part of our, turning to the international broader efforts to help the country of Ukraine defend their democracy against an unprovoked attack by Russia. The President recently banned Russian flag ships from coming to U.S. ports. Can you talk about how under your leadership the Coast Guard will enforce this mandate?

Admiral Fagan: We are actively engaged in monitoring that mandate. We're working with the interagency and we’re aware of the ban on Russian flag vessels and should they want to attempt to enter, we would use our authorities, Captain of the Port authorities, to deny entry to Russian Russian vessels. I'm confident that the system is in place to ensure we are able to not allow Russian flag ships to enter the US, and enjoy a great interagency partnership on that.

Klobuchar: Thank you. Yesterday we talked about, one last question here on Canada. I co-chair, with Senator Crapo, the US-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Group, worked a lot on Canada, care a lot about it. In Minnesota, we can see Canada from our porch. Could you talk about the efforts of the Coast Guard to coordinate with our friendly neighbor to the north.

Admiral Fagan: We enjoy an incredible relationship with our Canadian counterparts. There's Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada, or other other Canadian officials. We've got a great, great partnership in the Great Lakes as it pertains to the St. Lawrence Seaway Pacific Northwest. We could not have better partners with Canada and we the Coast Guard look for every opportunity to strengthen that partnership and work alongside our Canadian counterparts.

Klobuchar: All right, well, thank you very much, Admiral, and look forward to supporting you.