Shippers and the Alaska Railroad would have to prove they can pay damages to the state if they spill fuel in Alaska waters. But they wouldn't need plans for cleaning up a spill, at least not for a while.
Those are among the elements of a proposed compromise on Senate Bill 273, a fuel spill response bill that Rep. Ramona Barnes and Senate President Drue Pearce have been battling about for the last two weeks. Both are Anchorage Republicans.
The battle moved a step toward resolution Tuesday when Barnes held a hearing on the compromise version of the bill in the World Trade and State and Federal Relations Committee she chairs.
Previously, she had declined to schedule a hearing on the bill, effectively burying it in her committee, and prompting an angry response from Pearce accusing ``industry representatives'' of killing the bill.
Barnes did not move the bill from the committee Tuesday, but the issue may be closer to resolution today. Hearings were scheduled on a measure that sets up a task force to work on the issue and on the spill bill itself. Action had not been taken by the Empire's midday deadline.
The bill applies to the railroad and non-tanker vessels of 400 gross tons or larger.
Tankers that carry fuel as cargo are already required to have spill prevention and cleanup plans. Senate Bill 273 would extend such requirements to vessels that carry large amounts of fuel to power their own operations. That includes large cruise ships, large at-sea fish processors, trawlers and large ships that haul minerals to market.
As with earlier versions of the bill, the newest version requires the railroad and the ships to provide proof of financial responsibility, through insurance or other means.
They would need to show they have the financial resources to not only clean up a certain volume of fuel, but also to pay for damages to state resources that might result from a spill, said Larry Dietrick of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
``We do the financial responsibility now,'' Pearce said.
The bill establishes spill planning standards for shippers and the railroad. They would have to be able to contain 15 percent of the maximum fuel capacity of the vessel or railroad tank car within 48 hours.
However, the effective date for meeting those planning standards is no longer in the bill.
Instead, a task force would meet during the legislative interim to iron out details of what various shippers would need to do to show they can meet those standards.
A likely option for many will be to pay to join one of several spill prevention and response cooperatives already in place throughout the state to respond to spills from oil tankers.
A separate piece of legislation to create the task force, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, was being considered in a conference committee this morning.
The task force's recommendations would be brought back to the next Legislature, which would have to act on them before they became law.
The cost to comply with the standards has been a concern.
``We really need to know what those are and how it's going to affect us as we trade on the world market,'' Barnes said. ``If it makes the cost prohibitive to do business, we better find another way.''
Pearce's office has presented estimates of 15 cents a passenger for cruise ships over the season, 1 cent per ton of coal, and about 11 cents a ton for frozen fish.
The task force will further clarify what the costs will be, Pearce said. She said she did not think there would be a large enough economic impact on a single industry to impact Alaska's exports in the world market.
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