Watered-down spill bill passes House

Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A watered-down version of a bill aimed at bringing cruise ships and other large vessels under the state's oil-spill response laws was approved by the House on Saturday.

Senate President Drue Pearce's proposal also covers the Alaska Railroad.

The version that passed the Senate would have required the railroad and owners of large non-tanker vessels to 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.

The measure ran aground in the House, where Rep. Ramona Barnes held it in her committee over concerns that such planning would drive up shipping costs for Alaska fish, timber and minerals.

That prompted Pearce to accuse the cruise and shipping industries of trying to kill the bill. Barnes released it after the planning requirement was stripped out, along with a provision giving the department the power to board and inspect ships for compliance.

''I'm still disappointed that the industry chose to lock arms and work to emasculate the bill,'' said Pearce, R-Anchorage.

Under the House version, 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.

A companion resolution directs a task force to study both inspections and the cost of contingency planning, and to report back to the Legislature next year.

''I believe that this bill has turned out to be balanced and fair,'' said Rep. Bill Hudson, R-Juneau.

The bill passed 36-0, but was held for a final reconsideration vote.

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