Feds Sue MA over Oil Spill Law
So the State makes a few good moves and now the feds swoop in to defend the oil industry.
Here's the Text from http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/01-05/01-19-05/a01lo409.htm
Feds sue state over spill law
Complaint targets key parts of oil legislation
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Standard-Times staff writer
The federal government yesterday sued Massachusetts over key parts of a new law designed to protect the state's most sensitive waterways from oil spills, saying the legislation thwarts federal powers and should be permanently stopped.
A Bouchard Transportation Co. single-hulled barge spilled up to 98,000 gallons of oil in Buzzards Bay in 2003 and spurred legislators and environmental advocates into a bipartisan effort to fashion the landmark law.
Gov. Mitt Romney then signed it in August 2004, effectively requiring oil transporters to use tug escorts, designated vessel routes, tracking systems and pilots with knowledge of local conditions and setting up new insurance requirements and fees that encourage the use of double-hulled barges. Experts in the oil transportation industry warned at the time that federal law pre-empted the state law -- making it void.
Yesterday's 10-page complaint, filed on behalf of the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security, echoed the industry's sentiments, saying the law created "an overlapping and competing legal regime" for ships in Massachusetts waters.
That the Coast Guard, in defending its rights, would also defend those of the oil industry came as no surprise to Mark Rasmussen, executive director of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay.
"We've known for a long time that the oil industry has been pressuring the Coast Guard to fight this battle for them," said Mr. Rasmussen, whose organization helped write the bill in question. "What the Coast Guard is saying is that the narrow interests of those few oil companies is more important than environmental protection, which is one of its charges, and protecting the safety of the citizens of Massachusetts."
The Coast Guard recently held public hearings about creating federal rules similar to the Massachusetts law. At the hearings, more than 100 citizens as well as politicians, fishermen, scientists and tug boat operators supported stronger Coast Guard regulations. Now, the exercise feels like a "public charade," Mr. Rasmussen said.
"Apparently the entire time they were doing that they were preparing a lawsuit, which wasn't mentioned at all at the hearings," he said.
While Gov. Romney has been quick to highlight his bipartisan effort to write the state law, he has been "absent totally" from the fight to slow or stop a federal lawsuit against the Oil Spill Act, said U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.
"I thought the governor supposedly had influence with the president, that they were pals," Rep. Frank said. "I am very frustrated, because frankly the governor told us he was piling up all these points with the president, but he seems totally unwilling to use them for us back here.
"There is no indication the governor has done anything to stop them from killing our oil spill law," Rep. Frank added.
Rep. Frank said he offered Gov. Romney his help, and the help of other Democratic legislators in the fight. The offer was never taken, Rep. Frank said, and his recent phone calls to the governor's office on the matter were not returned.
Calls late last night to Gov. Romney's spokeswoman for comment were not returned.
In contrast, state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who is widely expected to run for governor and has raised millions for his political war chest, urged U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to reconsider filing the lawsuit in a letter sent last week.
"It is unfortunate that the department and the Coast Guard are deploying scarce resources to undermine the protections afforded in the act, instead of using them to protect the public, the environment and economic interests from future incidents of this kind," he wrote.
The spill polluted more than 90 miles of shoreline, killed more than 460 birds and shut nearly 100,000 acres of acres of shellfish beds for months. The economy of SouthCoast was hit as those who worked in local fisheries suffered and tourism and recreational industries were interrupted.
Local legislators who helped write the bill -- and whose towns were struck hardest by the oil spill -- were dismayed at the news of a lawsuit that could strike the legislation down.
"I hardly expected the federal government to be leading the charge against environmental protection," said Rep. William M. Straus, D-Mattapoisett. "It makes it more important than ever that the Coast Guard move as quickly as possible to guarantee the same level of protection for our coast from oil spills. Then at least we would have the environmental protection, which is the important thing. Bragging rights come second."
Last night, with winter wind howling 30 knots on the bay and thermostats on land reading 2 degrees, Mr. Rasmussen said the point of the oil spill law should not be taken lightly.
"Because of that bill, tonight, in freezing conditions, a barge has a tug escort and a local pilot guiding it," he said. "What the Coast Guard is saying is that they think that a single-hulled oil barge would be better off in Buzzards Bay without a tug escort and a local pilot. To take down that law is to say that same thing.
"And we all know what the outcome of that can be," Mr. Rasmussen added.
This story appeared on Page A1 of The Standard-Times on January 19, 2005.
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