Democrats fail in attempt to amend spill bill

Posted: Wednesday, April 03, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- House Democrats tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to add requirements to a bill dealing with oil spill prevention and cleanup standards.

The measure, which passed the Senate in March, is up for a vote Wednesday in the House.

The bill is a response to a state Supreme Court decision earlier this year, which found that the Department of Environmental Conservation was not clearly complying with a law that requires companies to use the ''best available technology'' in oil spill prevention and response plans.

The DEC had regulations that considered a company to be using the ''best technology'' in some cases if its plan would meet response standards called for in state law. Those standards call for cleaning up a certain amount of oil within a certain period of time.

The department said the Supreme Court ruling raised questions about the validity of more than 100 contingency plans it has approved for companies.

The bill, sponsored by the Senate Resources Committee, attempts to take care of that problem by rewriting state law to make clear that what the DEC had been doing was fine.

But Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, said the measure essentially removes from state law the requirement that companies use the best technology available by defining ''best'' as whatever meets the 1990 response requirements or other DEC regulations.

''That's the really sad part is it's getting rid of the independent requirement that we also be the best,'' Croft said.

That change could allow companies to continue using current technology 10 or 15 years from now when better solutions might become available, he said.

Croft and Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, tried to amend the bill by calling for the department to determine the best technology using a set of specific criteria that are now in a section of DEC regulations. The criteria include considering the cost of the technology and whether it is compatible with existing equipment a company is using.

''It actually puts some meat on the bones,'' Kerttula said.

Rep. Joe Green, R-Anchorage, argued against the amendment.

''It micromanages the department,'' Green said.

Larry Dietrick, director of the DEC's Division of Spill Prevention and Response, said he would not have supported the Democrats' proposed amendment.

''They'd be locking us into doing it one way, and one way is not necessarily appropriate for everything we review.'' Dietrick said.

Department regulations now provide three ways of deciding what should be considered best available technology, Dietrick said.

One is the criteria Kerttula and Croft sought to put in law. That method is used in looking at spill prevention plans for pipelines, since the cleanup standards dealing with oil tankers don't apply to them.

When considering best available technology for oil tankers, the department looks at whether equipment meets the cleanup standard, Dietrick said.

A third way of determining whether equipment is best is through researching and preparing a list of the latest and best technology used elsewhere in the world that would work in Alaska.

The DEC is seeking funding for a best available technology conference that would look at new equipment being used around the world. The legislature turned down funding for that conference last year.

Dietrick said the bill preserves DEC's ability to use those methods of determining what is best available technology.

''This is not a rollback,'' Dietrick said.

The proposed amendment failed 9-26, with Reps. Ethan Berkowitz, Sharon Cissna, Harry Crawford, John Davies, Andrew Halcro, Bill Hudson, Reggie Joule, Kerttula and Croft voting for it.

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