Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Hearing of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Oil Spills


Location: Washington, DC

Hearing of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - Oil Spills from Non-Tank Vessels: Threats, Risks and Vulnerabilities


SEN. JOHN F. KERRY (D-MA): Thank you, Madame Chairwoman.

As Senator Lautenberg has mentioned, a lot of us on this committee -- and as Senator Stevens has mentioned in his own comments -- know from firsthand experience what happens when we have an oil spill -- the dramatic environmental and economic impact. I know Senator Boxer knows, and obviously Senator Stevens, as he's mentioned.

While the number of oil spills has thankfully been decreasing over the past few decades, they still do occur with a frightening regularity. And while improvement obviously needs to be made -- now, we've discussed this in this committee over the many years, in fact leading up to the double-hull sort of effort -- is really how do you prevent them from happening in the first place. And the concept of the double hull is really to do that.

We have certainly learned that when the cameras go away and the attention shifts, the local communities are left dealing with the impacts for a long, long period of time. On Sunday, April 27th, 2003, the tank barge Bouchard No. 120 ran aground and spilled an estimated 98,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil at Buzzards Bay.

Buzzards Bay, you know, Admiral, but for those who don't, a small area surrounded by the coastline of Massachusetts and the islands before you break out into Nantucket and Vineyard Sound.

This was the eighth recorded grounding in Buzzards Bay in the past 40 years and the fourth since the Exxon Valdez. And the community is still dealing with the after effects of the spill -- the total cost of cleanup estimated to be around 40 to 45 million dollars.

Now, Buzzards Bay has been the site of several catastrophic oil spills and near-miss groundings because it is the access and entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. The largest spill occurred in 1969 when approximately 189,000 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil spilled when the barge Florida ran aground off West Falmouth. And then in 1990, two groundings occurred within eight days of each other -- the grounding of the passenger ship Bermuda Star off Cleveland Ledge, and the grounding of another Bouchard oil barge, No. 145.

Two years later, the Queen Elizabeth II grounded off Sow and Pigs Reef right out near Cuttyhunk near the entrance coming in towards -- as you head in towards the canal.

So these are just a few examples. Now, I think a lot of us have adopted the notion on this committee that the states really do have a pretty good sense, if not the best knowledge, of what safety measures are needed to try to protect their waters.

And so in response to what happened in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts enacted the Oil Spill Prevention Act of 2004. And the law required an escort tug for large vessels and required a state pilot familiar with the waters to help steer the barge. These are pretty common-sense maneuvers. The tugs can help with an equipment failure or with human error. And they can prevent a spill from occurring.

The cost of an escort tug and a local pilot, as required by the Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act, is approximately $6,000 per tug transit through the bay and Cape Cod Canal -- minuscule compared to the profits carried in those vessels, and nothing compared to the costs inflicted on a community in the event of an oil spill.

Nevertheless, Admiral, the Coast Guard challenged this law in court and is still fighting against the requirement for a double- hulled vessel to meet these requirements.

Though double-hulled ships are relatively new, we've already seen massive oil spills from double-hulled vessels. In 2005, a double- hulled vessel operated by KC Transportation hit a submerged oil platform and through a 36-foot gash spilled 3 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And since double-hulled vessels sit deeper in the water, creating a greater risk for rupture in shallow areas such as Buzzards Bay, we're concerned.

One point six billion gallons of fuel travel through Buzzards Bay each year. And local entities, we believe, have the specialized knowledge to prevent those spills.

So the Coast Guard has accepted other states' assertion that local waterways require specialized knowledge and hence require the type of actions Massachusetts has taken. And we believe, obviously, that Buzzards Bay is proof the area needs a preventative action.

So it's my hope, Admiral -- I certainly want to explore with you, you know, why the Coast Guard opposes this, and would like to see if we can't, you know, move forward.

Thank you, Madame Chair.


SEN. KERRY: Thank you, Madame Chairman.

So Admiral, I sort of asked the question in essence. Let me summarize it.

You're familiar with the Oil Spill Prevention Act that was passed in Massachusetts. In several other states, the Coast Guard did not challenge similar legislation. We've had these several oil spills in the bay, so why does the Coast Guard not allow Massachusetts to protect its own environmental interests here?

ADM. ALLEN: Sir, I don't think it's a matter of that. And in fact, I think on 85 or 90 percent of what's involved here, we actually agree.

The real issue is the inclusion of --

SEN. KERRY: Well, we don't agree if we go to court. I mean, we've been to court --

ADM. ALLEN: Well, the issue is double-hull, sir, as you know.

SEN. KERRY: I know, but -- well, I understand that. But that's exactly what they're -- they want to require any major ship carrying major amounts of oil, no matter what, double hull or not, because double hull as -- obviously draws more and has as much risk in a shallow area of somebody mis-navigates. I mean, the last spill took place because they went to the wrong side of the navigation buoy.

ADM. ALLEN: Yes, sir.

SEN. KERRY: So why can't a double hull do that?

ADM. ALLEN: Sir, when we do our rule making -- again, we were talking earlier -- under the Administrative Procedures Act in the current guidelines, we have to do a regulatory analysis and an economic analysis and look at the cost-benefits of the solution that we're going to provide in the rules.

When you do that, the cost of regulating a double-hull tanker which the investment's already been made in, has a higher degree of safety, and you work through this process, drives you to a different end state than what the state arrived at.

Then we have the issue of trying to provide a standard, a set of rules across the country so we're not dealing with 50 different sets of guidelines for the federal government, sir.

We'd be happy to work with you on it, sir.

SEN. KERRY: Well, I understand that -- I mean, it's no skin off your back if the state has a stricter requirement as long as the ship that's coming through is going to enforce it. I mean, the requirement is pretty simple. They've got to have, you know, they've got to have a minimum staffing watch requirement. That's pretty, you know, fairly standard fare. They've got to have a tug, pilot and a mandatory navigational route.

ADM. ALLEN: Yes, sir.

SEN. KERRY: So what's -- I mean, what is complicated about that?

ADM. ALLEN: Sir, there's nothing complicated about it at all, and there would be a higher degree of safety were we to apply this to double hulls. All we are saying is the analysis that accompanies the rule making we're required to do leads you to an answer that says there's not (a great ?) benefit to including double hulls through the regulatory process. And if that's unsatisfactory, then we need to look at that process, sir.

SEN. KERRY: Well, obviously the state disagrees with you.

ADM. ALLEN: Yes, sir.

SEN. KERRY: So in effect, the Coast Guard is, by virtue of its opposition to this, trying to overrule the state's desire to regulate its own waters.

ADM. ALLEN: No, sir. I think what we're trying to do is take a federal position. And there are a lot of higher legal principles --

SEN. KERRY: You haven't taken that position in other places.

ADM. ALLEN: Sir, the position we have taken regarding the special areas in what the state's done, I think we have been consistent. I can provide you the background on it --

SEN. KERRY: Is that the only place where there is a double- hulled rule of this --

ADM. ALLEN: I would have to go back and check, sir. I'm happy to respond for the record.

SEN. KERRY: Would you, please?

ADM. ALLEN: Yes, sir. Happy to do that.

SEN. KERRY: I'd appreciate that.

And you know, it's -- well, it's obviously frustrating, particularly when you look at the cost issue.

Secretary Glackin, the NOAA damage assessment remediation restoration has not yet completed the damage assessment for Buzzards Bay. And the community has not been compensated for shellfish lost, salt marsh, beach damage, et cetera.

What is the status, and when will the community be compensated? Or have those environmental issues been addressed? Or will they be?

MS. GLACKIN: Senator, I'll have to get back to you with the specifics on that. But I can tell you that that activity is ongoing and we're moving forward with that.

I'm sorry. I'm just not prepared to give you a date.

SEN. KERRY: Would you get us something more specific, please?

MS. GLACKIN: Absolutely.

SEN. KERRY: You know, "moving forward," et cetera, I mean, this has been several years now. It just goes on and on.

These folks are not big conglomerates and corporations. If they get hurt, they get hurt.

MS. GLACKIN: I understand.

SEN. KERRY: And the compensation is pretty critical. And we're supposed to be there for them, all of us -- you, me, et cetera. So I'd like to see if we could address that.

Admiral, you know, for the 24 years that I've been on this committee -- almost 24 -- I've been involved with these issues of the waterways, Coast Guard. I used to be chairman of the subcommittee with the Coast Guard.

And I've always been frustrated. I'm frustrated. I imagine you are and you can't say it. You and I have had a little bit of this discussion previously.

But the Coast Guard's responsibilities just keep getting bigger and bigger and go up and up and up. And you know, any fair measurement says that you're not getting what you need in terms of the increases in complement to your personnel and to your assets.

And so it's, you know, hard for us to sit here and sort of measure really where we are in terms of Homeland Security requirements, drug interdiction requirements, public safety requirements, enforcement, EPA enforcement, all those other things you have to do.

And I wonder if you can share with us -- I mean, I know it's difficult under the structure we have, but can you at least share with us the priorities that you wish you had a better ability to be able to address?

ADM. ALLEN: I can, Senator. I can tell you thank these priorities also represent Secretary Chertoff's views as well because I've talked with him personally about it. We have to put more people in certain critical functions, at least in the perceptions of our stakeholders and our overseers -- whether or not our performance has diminished, at least the perception that we've been diverted and not been taking care of business.

One area is the marine safety area with inspections; other area is rule making; watch standards for our command centers and our ports, people that play a direct impact on managing the waterways and preventing these events from happening. I've made my requirements clear. And thus far, I have gotten support by the secretary.

SEN. KERRY: Well, could I emphasize something that's bothered me for a long, long time?

I was recently down in South Africa. And in South Africa, in the port, I saw a lot of Taiwanese and Japanese trollers and fishing vessels in South African port. Senator Stevens and I took the issue of driftnet fishing to the United Nations in the 1990s, and we succeeded in getting the ban. But there are folks out there doing it. And about 50 percent or more of the catch is, quote, "by-catch," and it's discarded.

And all across the globe -- but you know, obviously we care -- we have to care about it all, but our primary focus is, needless to say, our own shorelines. I talked to our own fishermen. I've seen what's happening up in New England and elsewhere. We just don't have adequate capacity to enforce, to monitor anywhere.

And I'd like to not see that left out of the list of needed priorities. I mean, we've got to have the ability to be able to bring stocks back and enforce fisheries --

ADM. ALLEN: Yes, sir.

SEN. KERRY: -- or we're in trouble.

ADM. ALLEN: I can give you a response for the record. I can give you a couple highlights now if you like, sir.

SEN. KERRY: I would.

ADM. ALLEN: One of the real issues, and you know this all to well from your service, is maritime patrol aircraft and sensors to be able to understand what's out there, establish the threat and be able to interdict a target of interest. We have done a couple things in the last couple years that I think are going to provide us a significant improvement in our performance there.

This last year, we combined maritime patrol aircrafts from Japan and Canada working with a Coast Guard cutter with a Chinese ship rider on; interdicted seven high seas driftnet cases in the middle of the Pacific. Three of them constituted severe enough infractions where we took them back to the Chinese and turned them over for prosecution.

We're also establishing a joint program office with Customs and Border Protection on UAVs, trying to extend our reach and also take care of the new Hawaiian Island sanctuary, sir. But I can provide you more for the record.

SEN. KERRY: Well, I'd really appreciate that. Yeah, I would like that. I'd love to follow up with you sometime and talk about it and see how we could sort of think this through and plan for something as we head into next year and beyond, because it's very distressing and I'm hearing unbelievable stories of depleted stocks in almost everything everywhere, and not to mention the pollution issues and other kinds of issues.

One last thing: container ships.

ADM. ALLEN: Yes, sir.

SEN. KERRY: Drop some of these containers out in the ocean and they float, submerged, and they become a serious hazard to other shipping. What, if anything, could be done? I understand there is an enormous number. I don't -- I've heard it's in the thousands -- maybe you can shed some light on this -- of containers that in storms or in bad lashing and loading and other procedures, we lose them. And because of the weight, they don't sink completely because of the buoyancy, but they also don't float so you see them. And they're a real hazard to navigation.

ADM. ALLEN: Yes, sir. I'm just aware of anecdotal reporting. But if I could for the record, I will go back and consult with the International Maritime Organization and Secretary-General Metropolis. And I will give you our best estimate on worldwide figures, sir.

SEN. KERRY: I would really appreciate that.

ADM. ALLEN: Yes, sir.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you, Madame Chair.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top