Barnes keeps grip on spill bill

Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill to bring cruise ships and other large non-tanker vessels under Alaska's oil spill response laws remained firmly in the grip of Rep. Ramona Barnes on Tuesday after a brisk hearing on a compromise version of the measure.

Barnes and the bill's sponsor, Senate President Drue Pearce, had been in a war of memos and press releases over the measure since Pearce accused Barnes of killing the bill on behalf of the cruise ship industry.

The two Anchorage Republicans met face to face in Barnes' Special Committee on World Trade and State-Federal Relations so Pearce could introduce a revised bill that deals with Barnes' chief argument against the bill -- the possibility of increased shipping costs for the fishing, timber and mining industries.

The new version indefinitely delays a requirement that vessel owners and the Alaska Railroad provide the Department of Environmental Conservation with a contingency plan to clean up 15 percent of their oil-carrying capacity within 48 hours of a spill. Meanwhile, a task force would study the bill's impact on shipping costs.

''We put the spill planning requirements in the statute, but we don't turn them on until the task force reports back to the Legislature,'' Pearce said.

But Barnes refused to move the revised bill, saying she needed more time to consider it.

''We're working our way there,'' Barnes said.

Barnes has said she's afraid the cost of maintaining spill response equipment in remote areas of the state could hurt the competitiveness of Alaska resources on world markets.

''I think that it's crucial that we know what these costs are,'' Barnes said.

Owners would still have to prove they could take financial responsibility for cleaning up a spill. The bill covers only ships of more than 400 gross tons, which includes cruise ships, state ferries, freighters and large fishing vessels.

Pearce concedes that Barnes' concerns are legitimate, but estimates the spill response requirements would only cost a penny a ton for coal, 11 cents a ton for fish and 15 cent per cruise ship passenger.

Earlier in the day, Barnes' only bill of the session was waived out of two Senate committees without a hearing, significantly increasing its chances of passing before the end of the session. The bill would deposit $250 million of the Alaska Permanent Fund's earnings back into the fund's principal.

''It did not have anything to do with this bill because I don't do business that way,'' Barnes said when asked about a connection between the two measures. ''I suspect my friends in the Senate didn't want that bill to die in their committees.''

Barnes, who faces a tough re-election fight, has said the measure is designed to win back voters' trust after last year's lopsided defeat of a plan to balance the budget with the Permanent Fund's earnings.

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