Feds Sue to Block Mass. Oil Spill Liability Law

January 21, 2005

The federal government has filed a lawsuit challenging key sections of a new Massachusetts law that regulates oil tanker operations and safety in state waters, saying the provisions violate federal authority and should be struck down.

The law, which was triggered by the massive oil spill in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod nearly two years ago, was signed by Gov. Mitt Romney in August and sets requirements for tug boat escorts, tug crews, vessel routes, insurance, and alcohol testing.

In a 10-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, the federal government claims that the state’s oil spill act “impermissibly seeks to establish an overlapping and competing legal regime” over vessels operating in state waters.

The suit says that recommended routes for oil barges are already designated, that crew requirements for tug escorts are governed by the Coast Guard, and that drug testing is set by federal law.

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly, in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, said the state Legislature took action because the Coast Guard has failed to adopt new rules on tug boat escort requirements.

“It is unfortunate that the Department and the Coast Guard are deploying scarce resources to undermine the protections afforded in the Act, instead of using them to protect the public, the environment, and economic interests from future incidents of this kind,” said Reilly, who urged Ashcroft not to file the suit.

Reilly’s office was reviewing the lawsuit and had no other comment on the state’s response. But Romney spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman said the state “will aggressively protect our waterways from the type of environmental disaster that occurred in April 2003.”

On April 27, 2003, a barge drifted out of Cape Cod Canal and ripped a gash in its hull, spilling tens of thousands of gallons of oil and killing wildlife along the Massachusetts and Rhode Island coastline. Bouchard Transportation agreed to pay a record $10 million fine for the spill.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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