INTERTANKO and industry alliance petition to join USCG complaint against Massachusetts Oil Spill Act

INTERTANKO has allied itself with American Waterways Operators, Chamber of Shipping of America and BIMCO to petition to join the U.S. Government Complaint against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 

The industry alliance sees the State Oil Spill Act as a threat to safety and to environmental protection.  

The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO); the American Waterways Operators (AWO) - the national trade association for the American tugboat, towboat and barge industry; the Chamber of Shipping of America (CSA); and the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) formally petitioned this week to join a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Government against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts concerning an unconstitutional oil spill law enacted there.  

The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (Civil Action No. 05-10112 JLT) on 18 January 2005, charges that the 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. This same provision was upheld when 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 (2000). 

The 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. The industry 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. 

INTERTANKO’s members represent, on a tonnage basis, approximately 70% of the world’s independently owned (i.e., not government-owned or oil company-owned) self-propelled tank vessel fleet. Many INTERTANKO members own or operate tank vessels that currently call at ports in Massachusetts while engaged in interstate or foreign commerce. 

In submitting this motion to intervene, INTERTANKO stated that its members who call at Massachusetts ports, or are considering doing so, have been adversely affected by the Act. “Our members are subject to being required to equip, man, operate, deploy, and manage their vessels in accordance with the Act when in Massachusetts waters, in a manner different from federal requirements and requirements in other states and countries. The departure of Massachusetts from an extensive federal regulatory scheme poses a burden on and expense to our members.” 

The Association continues to point out that “the lack of uniformity impairs federal control of tank vessel safety standards and presents a threat to international maritime safety, as well as to the lives and property of INTERTANKO’s members, their employees, and to the marine environment”. It adds that its members wishing to call at Massachusetts ports are adversely affected by the Act “to the extent that the Act’s deviations from federal and international requirements constitute impermissible barriers to their use of Massachusetts ports even when their vessels already comply with federal laws and international treaties”. 

For more information, please contact INTERTANKO’s Director of Regulatory Affairs and the Americas, Joe Angelo, Tel: +1 703 373 2269.