Sept. 10, 1999 - Olympia - A state's right to impose tough environmental standards to protect critical natural resources like Puget Sound are now at stake as the U. S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging Washington's oil spill prevention law.
"The state Legislature sought to protect Washington's waterways from the threat of oil spills caused by oil tankers traveling through Puget Sound and felt prevention was the best method to do so," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "We intend to vigorously defend the state's right to set its own standards when it comes to protecting the environment."
The 1991 law requires owners and operators of oil tankers to file a spill prevention plan that meets state standards, which are more stringent than federal and international standards.
The suit was originally filed in 1995 by the world's largest independent oil tanker trade group, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko). The group claimed that Washington's 1991 oil spill prevention law improperly intruded into a field controlled by the federal government, and was therefore, unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour upheld the law in November of 1996, and Intertanko appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal government intervened in the case while it was pending in the Court of Appeals. In 1998, the Ninth Circuit upheld all but one small section of the law dealing with technology issues. In May of this year both Intertanko and the federal government filed petitions with the U. S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
A date for oral argument has not been set by the Court, but Gregoire said it will likely be scheduled for late in the fall session.
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