Senator John Kerry today questioned Admiral Thad Allen of the U.S. Coast Guard about why the Coast Guard continues to work to undermine state efforts to protect Massachusetts waterways. In response to the 2003 Buzzards Bay oil spill, Massachusetts enacted the Oil Spill Prevention Act of 2004 which required an escort tug for large vessels and required a state pilot that knows the waterway to help steer a barge.
The cost of an escort tug and a local pilot is approximately $6000 per trip - a tiny cost compared to the profits that are carried in that ship, and nothing compared to the costs inflicted on a community in the event of an oil spill like the one suffered in Buzzards Bay four years ago. Yet the Coast Guard challenged this law in court and is still fighting against the requirement for double hulled vessels to meet these requirements. Double hulled vessels sit deeper in the water, creating a greater risk for a rupture in a shallow area such as Buzzards Bay.
"The Buzzards Bay oil spill caused severe damage to the bay's fragile ecosystem and shellfishing activities. It's incredible that almost five years later, the community is still dealing with the after effects, and the Coast Guard is still fighting new protective measures," said Senator Kerry. "1.6 billion gallons of fuel travel through Buzzards Bay each year, and local entities have the specialized knowledge to help prevent future oil spills. While the Coast Guard has done a good job responding to the oil spill, they haven't been nearly as constructive preventing the next disaster. Preempting the State law which will help prevent future oil spills is a mistake we can't afford. The number and severity of oil spills in Buzzards Bay are proof enough that this area needs the preventative actions that the state law intended."
The questioning came as part of the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard hearing on Oil Spills from non-tank vessels.
In 2003, Kerry was one of the first to call for funding for the Coast Guard to study ways to prevent any further oil spills. He also sponsored a forum in New Bedford on navigational safety in the months following the accident.