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December 6, 2005

Senator seeks tougher antipollution measures in Puget Sound

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is to introduce legislation to implement environmental safeguards to protect Puget Sound from future oil spills.

Cantwell is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over oil spill issues.

She says her bill, "The Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act," would reduce the risk of an oil spill in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca by improving tug escort procedures, requiring a permanent rescue tug in Neah Bay, and providing financial support for Washington's newly formed Oil Spill Advisory Council.

The legislation would also increases liability caps for parties responsible for an oil spill, require more comprehensive structural inspections of single-hull oil tankers, and initiate an analysis of oil transportation in the United States to determine if additional safeguards are needed.

Cantwell has been working on comprehensive legislation to reduce and prevent spills since she became Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Fisheries and the Coast Guard in early 2005.

The legislation she plans to introduce later this month when the Senate comes back into session grew out of a major field hearing held in Seattle last August, and responds to testimony from government officials, industry representatives, and other experts and stakeholders.

Earlier this year, Cantwell worked with U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) to renew and reinvigorate the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund in the Energy Bill. Without Congressional action, the Fund, which has been used to help clean up oil spills in the Puget Sound, would have run out of money by 2008.

Key Components of Cantwell's "Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act:"

Establishes a federal requirement for double tug escorts for all oil tankers over 5,000 gross tons operating in Puget Sound and Prince William Sound.

Establishes a permanent rescue tug at Neah Bay near the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and in other remote areas where the Coast Guard determines the risk of oil spills is great.

Supports the Oil Spill Advisory Council by providing it with $1 million in funding annually.

Increases liability caps for parties responsible for an oil spill. Current limits were adopted in 1990 and oil spill cleanup costs have far outpaced existing liability caps.

Requires the Coast Guard to conduct more comprehensive structural inspections of single-hull oil tankers.

Directs the Coast Guard to reduce the risks of oil spills from activities that are now largely ignored, such as spills resulting from oil transfers between vessels and land-based facilities.

Requires the Coast Guard to improve coordination with federally-recognized tribes with respect to oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response.

Requires the identification of natural resources of particular ecological or economic importance, such as fisheries, marine sanctuaries, and important estuaries. These areas would then be protected through routing and other navigational measures to reduce the risk of oil spills.

Requires a comprehensive review of the safety of America's oil transportation system, and directs the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with other agencies, to provide recommendations to improve existing safety measures