July 16, 2004

Wyden, Smith include oil spill provisions in Coast Guard reauthorization bill

Senators worked to get tougher oil spill response plans & expedited loans for people impacted by spills

Washington, D.C. U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith today announced that the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill includes provisions they sought to protect coastal communities from future oil spills, as well as a loan provision to aid those who suffer economic damages from oil spills.Requiring all vessels carrying large amounts of oil to have spill response plans will help protect future generations from the devastation of oil spills such as that caused by the New Carissa, Wyden, a conferee on the Coast Guard bill, said. In addition, the oil spill loan provision will help folks whose livelihoods are damaged by oil spills get back on their feet more quickly.Oil spills are terrible tragedies that can destroy not only the oceans flora and fauna but also coastal economies, Smith said. This legislation will go a long way in preventing hardship like that suffered by Oregon after the New Carissa spill.In February 1999, the New Carissa ran aground on the Oregon coast, spilling large quantities of oil and causing widespread environmental and economic damage. Under current law, only oil tankers are required to have oil spill response plans. The new spill response plan provision expands the requirement to all non-tanker vessels, such as the New Carissa, carrying large quantities of oil.To address economic damages like those caused by the New Carissa spill, the Senators also included a loan provision in the reauthorization bill. Under current law, it can take several years for those who suffer economic damages from a spill, such as the oyster farmers on the Oregon coast, to get compensation from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. With this provision, originally a Smith-Wyden stand-alone measure that was added as an amendment to the Coast Guard bill, victims of oil spills will be able to get low-interest loans in the interim to help them recover more quickly.The Coast Guard Reauthorization bill also includes an increase in the overall Coast Guard budget and accelerated modernization of the Coast Guards deepwater fleet to help it fulfill its expanded homeland security role. In addition, the bill includes provisions, such as a program for repayment of student loans, to help the Coast Guard attract and retain the most qualified personnel.These provisions were approved this week by the Coast Guard Reauthorization conference committee. The bill must now get final Congressional approval before going to the White House for the Presidents signature.