Lawmakers OK weakened version of spill bill

Sponsor casts one of two votes against own Senate measure

Posted: Thursday, May 04, 2000

Senate President Drue Pearce had battled hard for her bill requiring cruise ships, other big vessels and the Alaska Railroad to be ready to mop up a fuel spill.

But in the end she voted against it.

``Did you know what bill you were voting on?'' Senate Majority Leader Jerry Mackie asked, after Pearce cast one of only two votes against the final version of Senate Bill 273.

``I don't have to like the fact that they gutted it,'' Pearce replied.

The bill was one of the final pieces of legislation to clear both the House and the Senate before the Legislature adjourned Wednesday night.

The bill initially required the Alaska Railroad, cruise ships and other large vessels to prove they could pay damages to the state if they spill fuel in Alaska waters and to have approved contingency plans for cleaning up a spill.

It underwent a major revision in the House World Trade and State and Federal Relations Committee, chaired by Anchorage Republican Rep. Ramona Barnes.

Barnes said she was worried the cost of the contingency planning requirement would hurt Alaska's ability to compete in world markets.

The bill applies to ships of 400 gross tons or larger. That includes large cruise ships, large at-sea fish processors and trawlers and ships that haul minerals and other products to markets in other parts of the world.

Tankers that carry fuel as cargo are already required to have spill prevention and cleanup plans. SB 273 deals with big ships that carry a lot of fuel for their own use.

The version of the bill that finally passed both the House and Senate still requires companies to show, through insurance policies or other means, that they have the financial capability to pay potential spill damages.

Vessels carrying heavy fuels -- such as bunker oil, which is hard to clean up -- would have to have financial backing to pay $300 per barrel of storage capacity or $5 million, whichever is greater. Those carrying lighter fuels -- such as diesel, which is likely to evaporate quickly -- would need to show they could pay $100 per barrel of storage capacity or $1 million, whichever is greater.

However, the bill leaves details of how companies will have to comply with its spill response planning standards to a task force. That task force would come back with proposed legislation that would have to be approved by the Legislature before companies have to comply.

Also removed from the final version of the bill is a provision that would have allowed the state Department of Environmental Conservation to inspect vessels.

The final version of the bill passed the House 39-0 and passed the Senate 17-2. Joining Pearce in voting no was Wrangell Republican Sen. Robin Taylor.

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