Skip to main content

Originally published June 15, 2014 at 7:14 PM | Page modified June 15, 2014 at 11:26 PM

  • Share:
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

States worry about Coast Guard’s new power push

As the U.S. Coast Guard moves to assert its federal authority over maritime issues, officials in Washington, Alaska and other states are concerned by what it may mean for states’ rights in preventing and preparing for oil spills.

The Associated Press

Reader Comments
Hide / Show comments
How can this be?!?!?!?!? This LIBERAL Obama administration catering to the oil interests and the expense of the... MORE
After dealing with all three groups, local, state and the Coast Guard...I'll take the Coasties any day of the week MORE
Federal power stomping on states rights. Is this not the Liberal wet dream federal government you voted for? MORE


New rules proposed by the U.S. Coast Guard might dilute states’ power to prevent and prepare for oil spills — for instance, by overriding Washington’s requirement that tugboat escorts accompany supertankers into Puget Sound.

The controversy is prompted by a Coast Guard effort to assert federal authority over maritime issues.

State officials in Washington, California and New York have asked the Coast Guard to withdraw rules it proposed in December. They say the rules would limit the states’ role in protecting citizens from vessel accidents and pollution.

In Alaska, officials are worried the proposal would take precedence over state regulations requiring tanker escorts for Prince William Sound, where the Exxon Valdez spilled a load of heavy oil in 1989.

In December, the Coast Guard released proposed rules that outline a number of regulations it says would override state and local law.

The proposal clarifies the Coast Guard’s federal authority over areas such as vessel safety and inspection, small passenger vessels, marine accident reporting, among matters.

But in comments to the federal agency, some state officials say the rules are too broad and sweeping. The rules would interfere with or create confusion about state-specific laws regarding spill reporting, tugboat escorts or oil- spill contingency plans, they say.

Under the proposed rules, the state would be prevented from requiring tug escorts for tankers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, said Maia Bellon, the state’s ecology director.

“This is not acceptable to protect our waters,” she said at a hearing last month.

The Coast Guard says it is simply restating its position and clarifying existing law, not creating new regulations. Agency officials say they want to make clear to the public which existing regulations take precedence over state and local law.

“It doesn’t create any new regulations that impact the state’s ability to regulate and protect their waterways,” Capt. Jason Hamilton, staff judge advocate at the U.S. Coast Guard, said at a hearing in Seattle last month.

Some groups say the proposal will bring clarity and predictability to maritime rules.

Skip Volkle, vice president and general counsel of Seattle-based Foss Maritime, the largest coastal tug and barge operator in the U.S., backed the Coast Guard’s position.

He said his company operates vessels on a daily basis that travel up and down the West and East coasts.

“We cannot engage in interstate commerce if every state gets to regulate what equipment has to be on our vessels, how long it has to be, how deep it can be, how wide it can be, what materials can be made,” he said at last month’s hearing.

Many states such as Washington have passed additional requirements, including requiring that oil spills be reported immediately to state officials.

“The Coast Guard’s view of existing law fails to respect states’ rights, leaving states with little if any authority to exercise their historical police powers to protect the health and safety of their citizens,” California state officials told the agency in a May letter.

The rules also create uncertainty about whether state-required oil-spill contingency plans for tankers would be pre-empted by federal authority, Larry Hartig, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, told the Coast Guard in a May letter.

Environmental groups have raised concerns, too.

Four weeks for 99 cents of unlimited digital access to The Seattle Times. Try it now!

Also in Local News

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Time to add another piece to your Hawks collection

Time to add another piece to your Hawks collection

Check out the full lineup of championship merchandise from The Seattle Times store.


Partner Video


The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►