December 2, 2004

Senators react to Athos I spill

United States Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) announced his intention to introduce legislation to phase out the cap on damages a company responsible for an oil spill is required to pay. The legislation comes after the recent Delaware River spill involving the tanker Athos I. The change proposed by Senator Lautenberg would only apply to spills by single-hulled vessels, not the safer double-hulled vessels.

"Oil companies that have decided not to change to safer double hulled vessels should not be immune from paying the entire cost when one of their ships dumps thousands of gallons of oil into our rivers," said Senator Lautenberg. "The law on the books is not doing enough to protect the environment and local businesses when an oil spill occurs."

Senator Lautenberg's bill would phase out the current caps placed on damages for single hull oil tankers that cause an oil spill.

The liability cap for the Athos I spill is $45,474,000.

Lautenberg announced his intention to introduce this legislation when the Senate convenes in early December to finish up some last minute business of the 108th Congress.

The Oil Spill Liability Act of 2004 will be introduced by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg and New Jersey's junior senator, Senator Jon S. Corzine (D).

Senator Lautenberg will introduce new legislation to modify the liability limits authorized under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), for parties responsible for an oil spill.

The Lautenberg-Corzine bill will have two primary provisions:

  1. Phase out the liability cap in the case of single-hull tanker vessels
  2. Double the liability limits in current law for all other vessels and facilities

OPA currently requires all tankers to be double-hull by 2010, and grants an exception for some vessels until 2015. As a means to push the industry into investing in double-hulls sooner rather than later, this provision would phase out the liability cap for single-hull tankers.

Currently, OPA liability limits are determined by a formula based on the size of the tanker or facility. According to a press release from Senator Lautenbeg "this limit has at times been too low to require the responsible party to cover the full costs of the cleanup and the costs incurred by business hurt by the oil spill."

Senator Lautenberg was an original co-sponsor of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. He was also a member of the House-Senate conference on the legislation.

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