Lawmakers seek oil spill legislation, independent review

Against a backdrop of flying sparks from repairs on the container ship Cosco Busan, a Bay Area delegation of state assemblymembers in San Francisco today pledged to introduce legislation aimed at improving a collective response to major oil spills.

The delegation, led by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-East Bay, also called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to set up an independent commission to review the Nov. 7 San Francisco Bay oil spill response effort and make improvements to the state's oil spill response program.

Hancock, Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Sally Lieber, D-San Jose, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, and Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, made the announcement this morning at the Ramp Restaurant, located on San Francisco's bay waterfront.

Across the water rested the docked 900-foot container ship whose hull seeped 58,000 gallons of toxic bunker fuel into the bay after the vessel collided with a Bay Bridge tower on its way from the Port of Oakland.

Less than one-third of the oil was subsequently recovered by cleanup crews, according to U.S. Coast Guard figures.

Oil showed up on beaches from the East Bay to San Francisco, and from Marin County south to San Mateo County. Thousands of birds were killed or injured.

Calling the spill a “bitter wake up call” for the Bay Area, Hancock said the response procedures in place at the time “were not adequate” to protect the bay's fragile ecosystem.

Hancock expressed dismay that local responders were told “they did not have the authority to do what needed to be done,” she said.

Hancock said she would author bills to require quick notification of local emergencyresponders, train local emergency responders and volunteers, increase state funds for oil spill response, and apply stricter standards to large non-tanker vessels, such as the Cosco Busan.

“We're as vulnerable today as we were a month ago,” Leno declared.

“There's no time to waste,” he added, and addressed the need for an independent review.

“We can't have our own agencies self-assessing what went wrong,” Leno said.

Leno will propose legislation to provide grants for oil spill containment and cleanup technology to replace current technologies that he said are decades old.

Leno said he would push for increases in minimum response standards the first hours after a spill and for mutual-aid agreements between agencies in the same region for “the quickest possible response.”

“I would encourage the shipping industry to work with us,” said Leno. Better preparedness would decrease liability for companies responsible for spills, he said.

Other bills would seek to require tugboat escorts for vessels carrying hazardous materials; designate ecologically sensitive areas for additional response planning and protection; and improve preparedness and response for inland oil spills.

The proposed legislation will be submitted in January, according to a spokesman for Hancock.

State Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco/North Bay, and other state senators today also announced the introduction of similar legislation addressing oil spill response and called on the governor to support an independent investigation of the Cosco Busan response by the state auditor.

— Bay City News

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