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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Decision of US District Court welcomed by INTERTANKO

The State of Massachusetts has been permanently enjoined by the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts from enforcing the State of Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act 2004. In a decision announced 24.07.2006, the Court called the statute unconstitutional, asserting that it tries to make law in areas that are reserved exclusively to the Federal Government.

The Court concluded, “The challenged provisions of the (Massachusetts) Oil Spill Prevention Act are pre-empted, invalid and unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is therefore permanently enjoined from enforcing the challenged statutes.”

This decision, the result of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Government joined by a shipping industry coalition*, means that the regulatory authority of the U.S. Coast Guard over vessel operations in U.S. waters has been upheld and federal regulations and statutes pre-empt state and local regional activity. It reinforces a similar ruling involving the Supremacy Clause when in the year 2000 INTERTANKO won its long-running legal battle against the State of Washington by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89.

INTERTANKO welcomes this news. While its members remain fully committed to safety, to the protection of the environment, and to trading in compliance with all pertinent laws, the Association’s Chairman Stephen Van Dyck says, “INTERTANKO is pleased that to have prevailed in another federal preemption case. Federal preemption best serves our important goals of zero spills and accidents.

The State of Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act was signed into law in Massachusetts on 4 August 2004 in response to a 2003 tank barge accident that resulted in an oil spill in Buzzards Bay. It regulates oil-carrying vessels travelling in interstate and/or international commerce while such vessels are within the waters of Massachusetts. It provides for State pilotage, personnel and manning requirements, tank vessel design requirements, tugboat escort and routing provisions, drug and alcohol requirements, certificates of financial assurance.

The shipping industry coalition*was formed when INTERTANKO allied itself with the American Waterways Operators, Chamber of Shipping of America and BIMCO to join the U.S. Government Complaint (lawsuit) against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The industry coalition asserts that such interstate commerce requires a single, clear set of federal regulatory standards that are uniform from state to state and locality to locality, in order to avoid confusion that could lead to accidents. 

The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (Civil Action No. 05-10112 JLT) on 18 January 2005, charges that the Massachusetts Oil Spill Act impermissibly treads on federal jurisdiction, specifically, the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard, in making rules governing maritime operations in U.S. waters. It also asserts that comprehensive federal regulation already exists in the areas covered by the state Act, and that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution provides that federal laws and regulations override any attempt by a state government to legislate or regulate in the same areas.