Tougher Oil Spill Fines Become Law

Sweeney/ Adler Measure Imposes Stiffer Penalties For Shipping Companies That Spill Hazardous Substances into New Jersey Waters

BRIDGETON – A new environmental protection law championed by Senators Stephen M. Sweeney and John H. Adler will increase financial penalties by a whopping 800 percent for oil transport and shipping companies that are culpable for spills harming New Jersey waterways.

The measure (S-2311) was signed into law today by Acting Governor Richard J. Codey at a ceremony in Bridgeton.

Senators Sweeney and Alder pursued passage of the new law in response to the Athos I tanker accident that spilled an estimated 265,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delaware River last November.

“We’ve seen the environmental and property damage that a spill can have in our vulnerable watershed areas,” said Senator John H. Adler, D Cherry Hill. “Last year’s oil spill in the Delaware River has made it clear that the old caps on liability aren’t enough to realistically compensate the State and local residents for clean up costs. We need to update the liability standards, so that residents aren’t helpless in the face of a catastrophic spill.”

Under the new law, the cap on liability under the state’s Spill Compensation and Control Act would rise to $1,200 per gross ton for vessels – up to a maximum $50 million. The current cap of $150 per gross ton had not been increased since 1976.

“Polluters must be held responsible for cleaning up any hazardous agents that might harm the environment,” said Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem. The Spill Compensation and Control Act was enacted in 1977 to protect New Jersey’s citizens from the adverse effects caused by spills of petroleum products or other hazardous substances. The act authorized the state to tax owners and/or operators of leaking vessels to assist with cleanup and removal costs.

The Athos I incident was considered the second most severe spill in the Delaware estuary since 1975. It prompted one of the most intensive cleanups in the region’s history.

U.S. Coast Guard officials say a submerged anchor caused the devastating spill that polluted more than 100 miles of shoreline in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, killing at least 180 birds and damaging more than 300 vessels. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the ship’s operator and owner.

“The previous law, which was enacted in 1976, does not provide penalties that are stringent enough to seriously deter some shipping companies from continuing their harmful practices,” said Sweeney. “This new law will force them to stand up and take the necessary environmental protection precautions.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar measure aimed at protecting the Delaware and other rivers from oil spills. The federal bill would prod companies to transport crude oil in double-hulled ships by increasing the liability penalties for single-hulled tankers. It also would create new financial penalties for mariners who fail to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of riverbed obstructions dumped overboard. And, for the first time since 1990, oil companies’ liability for spills would be increased.

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