House Bills Would Address Oil Spill Cleanup, Establish Icebreaker Fund

Two bills under consideration in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Coast Guard Subcommittee stand to aid the fisheries industry.

H.R. 1684, the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2015, would ensure that the responsible party, regardless of origin, pays for all American cleanup costs associated with an oil spill.

Under current laws, spills occurring in US waters must be paid for in full by the responsible party, But foreign oil spills reaching US waters are paid for through the Oil Liability Trust Fund, which covers $150 million for clean up and up to $850 million for claims.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, a co-sponsor of H.R. 1684, said this legislation is increasingly important as maritime activity near Alaska increases. If a vessel transporting oil in Russian waters suffers a spill, ocean currents may very well bring that oil into Alaska’s waters, he said. H.R. 1684 would force the responsible party to pay for the costs associated with clean up, he said.

The second piece of legislation, for the National Icebreaker Fund Act of 2015, would establish an alternative funding process for building a new icebreaker, renovating an existing icebreaker, or leasing private icebreakers. That fund would be eligible for monies from a variety of sources, including congressional appropriations.

The National Icebreaker Fund would allow the Coast Guard to use funds to renovate its existing polar icebreakers, acquire a new one, or lease such a vessel from a private owner, said Young, who also is a co-sponsor of this legislation.

The benefits of this approach would be that Congress could build the fund up over years rather than trying to appropriate the significant overall costs of a new icebreaker in a single year, he said.