Alaska’s oil spill prevention and response standards at risk
On October 15, 2019, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation opened a public scoping process to solicit comments and input from stakeholders, the public, and industry on areas where Alaska’s Oil Spill Regulations 18 AAC 75 – Article 4 and Alaska State Statute 46.04, Oil and Hazardous Substance Pollution Control, could be streamlined.
Alaska State Statute 46.04, the basis for the oil spill regulations, contains many key laws designed to prevent oil spills and ensure that there are enough trained responders and equipment in place should prevention measures fail. For instance, this statute includes Alaska’s Oil Spill Response Planning Standard. This standard was created after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill as a direct result of the massive failure of the spill response system at that time. The standard establishes a foundation that continues to distinguish Alaska, and particularly Prince William Sound, as having a world-class preparedness and response system.
Input from the public will be critical as ADEC seeks to modify existing regulations
While regulations can be changed by the agency that oversees them (in this case ADEC), state statutes can only be amended by the legislature. This means that ADEC will need to propose any statutory changes they would like to see during the legislative session in Juneau. Should that occur, public input to individual representatives in the House and Senate will be crucial to preventing rollback of state statutes that protect our communities, local economies, and the environment.
Find out more about the differences between statutes and regulations
Strong statutes and regulations are one of the main reasons why Alaska has not had a major oil spill since the Exxon Valdez disaster. The world-class oil spill prevention and response system for the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers is a direct result of post-Exxon Valdez spill laws and regulations designed to protect Alaskans and our environment, as well as commercial and sport fishing, aquaculture, recreation, tourism, subsistence, and cultural interests. It is unreasonable for ADEC to claim now, after 30 profitable years of industry compliance, that the requirements are too onerous.
Protecting our communities and the environment is not burdensome; it is the cost of doing business in Alaska. Reducing any perceived burden to industry by rolling back or eliminating proven oil spill prevention and response requirements transfers the risk and burden of another oil spill to the communities, citizens, and environment they were designed to protect. This initiative disregards the efforts of hundreds of Alaskans who worked tirelessly on improving regulatory requirements after the Exxon Valdez oil spill to ensure that our state would never again suffer a similar environmental disaster.
Public input is needed to strongly oppose any legislative or regulatory changes that would erode oil spill prevention and response standards, increase the risk of a catastrophic spill, or demonstrate a return of the complacency on the part of the oil industry and regulators that Congress determined to be a primary cause of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
How you can help:
Public input is needed to protect and retain Alaska’s strong oil spill prevention and response regulations.
After the public scoping, ADEC will review the input received and put forth any potential changes, followed by a formal public comment period for those proposed changes. There is a 30-day minimum required for all state public comment periods.
During the current scoping period, we encourage the public to provide input which strongly opposes any legislative or regulatory changes that would erode oil spill prevention and response standards. Also we encourage the public to insist on more than the required minimum 30-day public comment period for any proposed revisions put forth by ADEC. We must ensure that adequate time is provided to analyze proposed changes and gather input from all interested public stakeholders. This is essential to make sure proposed changes do not weaken important oil spill prevention and response measures that many people fought so hard to implement after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Your voice matters! Submit comments
- Letter to Alaska’s Governor Mike Dunleavy on October 31, 2019 – Subject: Concerns Over Notice of Public Scoping (PDF)
- Additional background: Public Input Needed on ADEC’s Oil Spill Contingency Plan Regulation Reform Initiative (PDF)
- Why does Alaska have such an effective standard for oil spill prevention and response? Read the report: Alaska’s Oil Spill Response Planning Standard – History And Legislative Intent (PDF)
- PWSRCAC Board Resolution 19-03: Safeguarding Alaska’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Standards (More: News release about resolution)
In the news:
- Alaska regulators taking public comment on possible oil spill plan changes (KTOO Public Media; October 19, 2019)
- Alaska is considering whether to change oil spill plan requirements (Anchorage Daily News; October 16, 2019)
- CIRCAC Disagrees With ADEC Proposal To Overhaul The State’s Oil Spill Plan (Radio Kenai; October 29, 2019)
- Council takes up budget, hears reports on oil tanker protections, Turnagain Pass road safety (KBBI; October 30, 2019)
News release: Board issues position on safeguarding Alaska’s oil spill prevention and response standards
“The notion that safety can be ensured in the shipping industry through self-regulation has proved false and should be abandoned as a premise for policy. Alert regulatory agencies, subject to continuous public oversight, are needed to enforce laws governing the safe shipment of oil.”
– Alaska Oil Spill Commission Report (1990), The Wreck of the Exxon Valdez: Implications for Safe Transportation of Oil