AG Coakley Calls on Coast Guard to Abandon Effort to Eliminate State Oil-Spill Protections for Buzzards Bay
BOSTON – Citing the need for strict, substantive oil spill prevention measures for Buzzards Bay, Attorney General Martha Coakley has submitted comments to the United States Coast Guard file size 3MB which detail serious deficiencies in its recent Draft Environmental Assessment of the potential risks of another oil spill.
In those comments, AG Coakley called on the Coast Guard to conduct a new study and assessment that complies with federal law and a U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decision in 2011. According to the decision, the Coast Guard violated federal law when the agency failed to assess the environmental consequences of its decision to invalidate tougher requirements under state law. The AG’s Office contends that requiring both single and double-hulled oil barges to hire a local marine pilot and a tugboat escort is necessary to “prevent yet another oil spill in Buzzards Bay.”
“When the Court of Appeals reinstated a state law ensuring that oil barges traveling through Buzzards Bay are properly manned and escorted, we were hopeful that the Coast Guard would seriously reconsider its position,” AG Coakley said. “The Coast Guard, however, simply seeks to justify its prior decision, which sought to decrease the level of protection for Buzzards Bay. Buzzards Bay and the citizens of the Commonwealth deserve better.”
The Coast Guard’s Draft Environmental Assessment for implementing regulations governing the transportation of oil through Buzzards Bay is the latest action in a now seven year old dispute between the Coast Guard and the Commonwealth regarding the regulation of oil barges in Buzzards Bay. Following the spill of an estimated 98,000 gallons of oil in Buzzards Bay in 2003, and due to inadequate federal regulation, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act of 2004.
In early 2005, however, the Coast Guard filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to invalidate that Massachusetts law. Consistent with that initial effort, the agency’s recent assessment concludes that the environmentally preferable alternative is the one that seeks to invalidate two of the Massachusetts laws remaining oil spill prevention requirements—enhanced personnel for single hull barges and a tugboat escort for both single and double hulled tank barges.
The Coast Guard published the Draft Environmental Assessment in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s ruling last year, which accepted AG Coakley’s claim that the Coast Guard violated the National Environmental Policy Act. In its ruling, the court found that the Coast Guard failed to conduct any analysis of the environmental consequences of its regulations.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Seth Schofield of AG Coakley’s Environmental Protection Division and Assistant Attorney General Pierce O. Cray of AG Coakley’s Administrative Law Division.