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Posted: 15 Feb, 2018

Alaska - House Committee Approves Increase in Spill Penalties

The House Resources Committee in Alaska sent House Bill 322, legislation to increase penalties for fuel and oil spills to the Finance Committee on February 12th for consideration.  If enacted, the bill will double most penalties the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) can levy against spillers of oil, fuels and other hazardous substances including vessel waste water. Resources co-chair Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, stressed throughout the discussions that the primary impetus behind HB 322 is to bring spill penalty amounts into the 21st century. HB 322 moved on a 5-4 party line vote with Democrat support and Republican opposition.

HB 322 would double the per-gallon penalties for non-crude oil spills greater than 18,000 gallons on state lands or in state waters. Legislation has not adjusted these penalties since 1977. If the legislation is approved, the penalty for a large spill into an anadromous water body will go from $10 per gallon to $20 per gallon. The penalties for large crude spills — enacted in 1989, the same year as the Exxon Valdez grounding — will also double. The current penalties for large crude spills are $8 per gallon for spills less than 420,000 gallons and $12.50 per gallon for larger releases.

DEC collects roughly $150,000 in penalties during an average year with no exceedingly large spills, according to Spill Prevention and Response Director, Kristin Ryan. The department expects HB 322 to increase that figure by around $75,000 per year.

The number of spills has fallen from an average of about 2,500 per year in the late 1990s and early 2000s to less than 2,000 per year since 2010, per DEC. There were 2,046 spills in 2017 totaling 271,000 gallons; more than 188,000 gallons of which was a non-crude oil such as refined fuels. About 1,600 gallons of crude oil were spilled last year. The bill will also classify water produced from oil wells as crude in the event of a spill if the water contains a small amount of oil. HB 305 remains in the House Resources Committee. Its mirror, Senate Bill 158, was scheduled to be heard in Senate Resources Feb. 14 at the time this story was released.

Source: Elwood Brehmer, Alaska Journal of Commerce