Massachusetts unilateral pollution bill on the Governor’s desk

As previously reported, as a result of the May 2003 oil spill in Buzzards Bay in the U.S. (an oil barge grounding spilled 55,000 gallons of fuel oil, polluting 93 miles of the Massachusetts coastline), the Massachusetts legislators have introduced new legislation, which was adopted last week by both the State House of Representatives and the State Senate. The bill was now been submitted to the Massachusetts Governor for final signature. The Governor Mitt Romney has a deadline by end of this week to sign or to veto the bill.

This proposed unilateral state legislation is of importance to our members since some of its provisions will directly affect their trade to Massachusetts ports. We will provide a more detailed analysis of the bill but the following is a summary of the main provisions affecting tank vessels carrying not only oil but any other hazardous materials:

1. Financial assurance - a minimum of USD 1 million to be provided by one party or jointly by the ship owner, charterer, cargo owner, etc. Discounts/reductions may be granted to ships and tanker operators according to the ship's size, design (i.e. double hull), safety records of the ship and of the owner, etc.

2. Liability/charges - persons guilty of a negligent discharge should be penalised with a fine of no more than USD 25,000 per day of violation.

3. Inspections - inspectors of the Massachusetts Department of Environment (!!!) are entitled to inspect vessels in case of an accidental/operational discharge.

4. VTS - a VTS service is to be established in the Buzzards Bay area by 1 January 2006 - if not by that date, then as soon as possible thereafter. The VTS shall be advisory by nature and the bill takes care of limiting any liability in case of a mistake by the VTS service provider!!

5. Fees for VTS – Massachusetts may establish a fee to fund the VTS System.

6. Drug and Alcohol policy - vessels have to have onboard kits for testing crews for drug and alcohol consumption.

7. Creation of a State Oil Spill Prevention and Response Fund - financing from various sources (governmental and private). The cargo receiver is one nominated private party. The Fund should be up to USD 10 million.

Some of these provisions obviously overlap and/or conflict with the existing federal regulations. INTERTANKO and the American Waterways Operators (AWO) have jointly provided testimony pointing out the new bill's provisions which are actually pre-empted by the federal regulations. The US Coast Guard had also sent a letter making the same case. However, the Massachusets legislators went ahead and passed the bill regardless.

In an effort to coordinate our joint involvement, AWO and INTERTANKO met yesterday with the new USCG First District Commandant, Rear Admiral David Pekoske. We learned that the Rear Admiral sent a letter yesterday morning (Click here to download a copy) to the Massachusetts Governor inviting him to open a dialogue with the USCG before signing the bill it into law.

We will revert next week with any news on this matter. For those interested in the bill, as approved and presented to the Governor, it can be accessed at www.mass.gov/legis/bills/house/ht04724.htm

For clarification, please be aware that the House Resolution 4831 referred to in the USCG letter refers to the bill when it was a proposal. The bill is now referred to as H.4724.

Contact: Dragos Rauta