Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Olympia- March 22, 2000 - Governor Gary Locke and Attorney General Christine Gregoire today asked President Clinton to direct the Coast Guard to adopt new federal regulations protecting Puget Sound from oil spills.

The request came after the U.S. Supreme Court on March 6 struck down important provisions of Washington’s regulations on oil tankers that use Puget Sound and other state waters. The protections were designed to prevent environmental disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

"The Supreme Court’s decision creates significant gaps in the state and federal regulatory scheme that protect our waters," the Governor and Attorney General said in a letter to Clinton. "Now, with this decision, the primary responsibility for protecting the priceless waters of our state from a disastrous oil spill lies with Congress and the Coast Guard."

In the letter, Locke and Gregoire asked the President to issue an Executive Order directing the Coast Guard to work with the state in developing new federal regulations, and to explore ways to use state resources to assist in the enforcement of federal law.

"The regulations this state adopted to guard against oil spills were reasonable and rational," said Gregoire, who directed the Department of Ecology during the Exxon Valdez spill.

"We know best how to protect our valuable resources, and we are ready to help the Coast Guard implement regulations and prevent future disasters."

In its March 6 decision, the Supreme Court held that Washington’s rules concerning tanker crew training, English language proficiency, navigation watch and accident reporting are preempted by federal law. The Court allowed state regulation on matters peculiar to local waters, and remanded to the lower courts a review of Washington’s laws concerning operation during restricted visibility on Puget Sound and similar local requirements.

The case stemmed from a 1995 lawsuit filed by the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko), the world’s largest independent oil tanker trade group. Intertanko, joined by the federal government, argued that the state’s 1991 oil-spill prevention regulations conflicted with international agreements and were preempted by federal law.

Several other coastal states have adopted similar regulations.

The court’s decision in the case is available on the Internet at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/supct.March.2000.html