Senate bill targets state Supreme Court spill ruling

Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- An Alaska Supreme Court ruling that requires state regulators to look harder at oil companies spill response plans would be overturned by a bill that passed a Senate committee this week.

The Senate Resources Committee approved a bill that would allow the state Department of Environmental Conservation to continue it's current rules on regulating contingency plans for oil spills.

The bill takes aim at a state Supreme Court ruling that found the state's ''best available technology'' requirement should be read broadly.

After the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, the Legislature required a set of performance standards and response times for the containment and cleanup of oil spills in Alaska.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has regulations that considered a company to be using the ''best available technology'' if it meets those spill response standards.

The state's high court ruled the Legislature, when it passed the law, did not intend for regulators to rely on state spill standards as a yardstick of what is ''best available technology.''

''The court relied on the dictionary definition of 'best,''' said Assistant Attorney General Breck Tostevin.

The bill, sponsored by the Senate Resources Committee, would allow the department to approve technology so long as it is ''proven, appropriate and reliable'' to meet state standards for spill response.

The bill would validate the approach DEC has used since 1997 to approve more than 100 spill contingency plans, said Larry Dietrick, the department's spill response chief.

But Ross Coen of the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility testified by teleconference from Fairbanks that state regulators should concentrate on how to comply with the ruling and follow the law.

''Instead this bill attempts to change the rules and undermine the Supreme Court's decision,'' he said.

The Senate Resources Committee approved the bill after Monday's hearing. It could go to the full Senate soon.

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