August 4, 2004

Massachusetts spill legislation signed into law

AWO and Intertanko have expressed their joint "disappointment" with Massachusetts state spill legislation signed today by Governor Mitt Romney. The two associations says the legislation, which came in response to the April 2003 Buzzard's Bay spill, makes law in areas that are reserved to the Federal Government.

In June 2003, Massachusetts named an Oil Spill Commission to investigate possible changes to existing laws and regulations to increase the safety of commercial barges traveling in state waters. The legislation signed by the Governor implements the Commission's recommendations and incorporates many suggestions made by the Governor's Office in draft legislation submitted to the Commission.

According to the Governor's office, the new law includes several preventive measures to ensure the safe passage of hazardous cargo through critical waterways. Barge operators must now navigate within designated channels, use local pilots to guide their vessels, seek tugboat escorts, and implement vessel traffic service systems to prevent collisions and groundings. The law also provides for training and response equipment for coastal communities to capture and prevent spills.

In addition, the law:

  • Requires transporters to have a $1 billion dollar financial assurance program for large vessels.

  • Reduces the financial assurance requirement for transporters that use double hulls, possess safety equipment and demonstrate good safety records.

  • Authorizes state and local law enforcement officers to board and inspect vessels involved in maritime spill incidents and imposes a $5,000 penalty for commercial vessels that refuse access to an officer inspecting under these circumstances.

  • Closes a loophole in the current 21E statute, the Massachusetts Oil and Hazardous Material Release Prevention and Response Act, by authorizing the Department of Environmental Protection to take action to prevent oil spills.

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In addition to the preventive measures, Romney said spillers would face tougher fines under the new law. For example, the penalty for a discharge of oil to state waters and tidal areas resulting in injury to public health increases from $1,000 to $25,000. This penalty was last increased in 1967. The law also creates graduated penalties that allow for stiffer civil and criminal penalties when parties' actions are proven to be negligent or reckless and result in serious damage to natural resources.

The new law also establishes a trust fund to help communities respond to oil spills and imposes a two cent per barrel fee on petroleum products delivered to marine terminals to fund it. The trust fund is capped at $10 million, and the fee will no longer be collected after that point.

AWO President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Allegretti commented, "AWO shares the interest of the citizens of Massachusetts in ensuring the safe transportation of oil through their waterways. AWO's leadership in promoting the highest standards of safety for the American tugboat, towboat and barge industry is longstanding and well known. We are committed to carrying the vital energy supplies that keep homes warm and the lights on for New England in the safest and most environmentally-benign way. A sound, consistent federal regulatory regime overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard is the best way to improve safety and environmental protection in Massachusetts and nationwide. AWO is therefore profoundly disappointed that Massachusetts policymakers have enacted legislation that oversteps state authority and risks compromising safety by undermining the goal of consistent federal standards."

The Massachusetts legislation makes law in areas that are reserved to the Federal Government, despite the attempts of the United States Coast Guard, AWO, INTERTANKO and other organizations to help correct this course in the early stages in order to enact a bill that would provide real safety benefits.

According to the United States Supreme Court, states are forbidden from undermining federal law affecting vessel operations, crew qualifications, and related matters. This is necessary to promote uniformity and to prevent conflicting or duplicative state laws governing an industry that necessarily operates across numerous states' borders.

INTERTANKO Technical Director and Regional Manager for North America Dragos Rauta said, "We expect that the Federal Government will now move to protect its prerogatives and we support the U.S. Coast Guard's efforts in that regard. We also anticipate that the Coast Guard will issue clear guidance to mariners confirming that federal safety and environmental protection laws govern their activities on the waters of Massachusetts and identifying the specific provisions of the new law that are without force and effect."

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