Monday, March 6, 2000
Court invalidates major Washington State oil spill prevention
Now Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire is calling for the Coast Guard to take action in the wake of today's decision.
"The Court's decision has tied the state's hands from ensuring tankers will safely transit Washington waters and that there will be full and adequate protection for Puget Sound,'' said Gregoire.
She called the Supreme Court decision a "terrible blow to Washington's Puget Sound protection efforts.'' She added, "`We know better than those in Washington, D.C. how to protect this natural resource gem.''
As a result of the decision, Gregoire called on the U. S. Coast Guard to strengthen its tanker regulations so they meet the "common sense, essential protections, and safety measures mandated by Washington law.''
If the Coast Guard doesn't take steps to adequately protect Puget Sound, Gregoire said Congress must act.
Gregoire said it is not enough just to have good regulations. The Coast Guard also has to have adequate staffing to enforce the regulations. "The stakes are too high to have strong regulations that exist only on the books and are not carried out on the water.''
Meanwhile, the mood at INTERTANKO's headquartes was a little different. Westye Hoegh, Chairman of INTERTANKO, praised the Court's ruling: "This is a major statement from the United States that it will continue to play a leadership role in vessel safety and marine environmental protection."
Hoegh also pointed out that "the decision to challenge the Washington State regulations back in 1995 was unusual in an industry association context, but that the tremendous upside in terms of continued application of uniform international maritime standards in the U.S. was not lost on the members of the INTERTANKO Council." He further added: "This also confirms our belief that rules for safety and operations of shipping should be strict and international."
Dagfinn Lunde, the organization's managing director said that "the Supreme Court vindicates INTERTANKO's position that uniform national and international regulation is essential for marine safety. We are very pleased with the result. The result is gratifying and, INTERTANKO is also delighted that the international maritime industry found its voice and stood together on these important points of principle. A number of international organizations and governments of maritime nations came to the support of INTERTANKO. Their input was important and appreciated. The net result is a benefit for our vessels, our crews and the marine environment."
Lunde also expressed gratitude for the excellent work by INTERTANKO's legal team and Jonathan Benner in particular saying that "Jonathan Benner deserves a lot of credit for the positive outcome of this case, without him this outcome would not have been possible."
The INTERTANKO litigation was initiated in July 1995 when the State of Washington imposed regulations on vessel design, construction, crew qualification, equipment and manning requirements for tankers trading to Washington State. INTERTANKO challenged the Washington State regulations in federal district court in Seattle alleging that such actions by the State interfered with federal and international regulatory requirements governing tank vessels.
Svein Ringbakken, INTERTANKO's General Counsel and U.S. representative, commented that although the legal basis for the INTERTANKO challenge had been constitutional, the underlying concern was always the safety of tank vessels and prevention of oil spills. INTERTANKO has long championed high safety and environmental protection standards for tankers operating all around the world. Ringbakken stated that "the matter went far beyond Washington State to other states in the United States and other nations around the world. INTERTANKO's objective of raising international marine safety standards could not be met had the United States permitted the states and municipalities to take themselves out of commitments the U.S. has made in international fora to improving vessel standards."
When the matter was reviewed by the district court in Seattle, INTERTANKO's objections to the Washington State regulations were dismissed summarily. On appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, INTERTANKO succeeded in obtaining a finding that the State of Washington requirement for onboard vessel navigational and towing equipment was Constitutionally invalid. However, the Court of Appeals upheld the balance of the Washington State Regulatory regime.
In the Spring 1999 both INTERTANKO and
the United States petitioned the Supreme Court of the United
States to take review of the Ninth Circuit's decision. Arguments
were held in December of 1999. The Court's unanimous decision
issued on 6 March 2000 stated "the State of Washington has
enacted legislation in an area where the federal interest has
been manifest since the beginning of our Republic and
is now well-established."
To view the Court's decision in the case, click here
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