Major oil spills from tankers often result in severe localized damage. After the Exxon Valdez grounded on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling approximately eleven million gallons of oil, the federal government passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), establishing a federal scheme of oil spill prevention, liability, contingency planning, and compensation. Although comprehensive, OPA also specifically allows states to determine their own liability schemes, and to enact other types of legislation. Washington State was the first state to enact stricter oil pollution prevention regulations than those contained in OPA. These regulations were challenged by the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko) in the fall of 1996. The Western District federal court for Washington held the regulations constitutional. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit determined that a few of the challenged rules were unconstitutional because they were design and construction standards, not operational standards. Rhode Island enacted similar regulations, which became effective June 1, 1997, after an oil spill fouled its coastline in 1996. This Comment discusses regulations relating to preventing catastrophic oil spills from tankers as a result of collisions, groundings, or similar accidents. The primary objective of this Comment is to propose a method for states to enact design, construction, and manning requirements to help prevent oil spills that would survive a federal preemption challenge. The proposed method is for states to enact the requirements as an alternative to unlimited liability. By voluntarily adopting the option, a tanker's potential liability in the event of a spill would be reduce and/or capped. The liability limit would be instituted once the vessel was found to be in compliance with the enacted requirements. Part Il of this Comment outlines tanker regulation in the United States since the grounding of the Exxon Valdez, highlighting oil spill prevention provisions and the state law savings clause under OPA. Part III discusses the actions that Washington has taken to help prevent tanker incidents since OPA was enacted. This includes a discussion of Washington's regulations and the Intertanko case. Finally, the Comment presents the proposed liability scheme and why it should survive a preemption challenge.
Mark T. Peterson,
State Incentive Based Oil Tanker Regulation: An Alternative To Traditional Command-And-Control Regulation,
Ocean & Coastal L.J.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/oclj/vol4/iss2/3