Supreme Court Strikes Down Some Washington State Tanker Rules
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government and tanker owners on March 6 by striking down parts of Washington state regulations aimed at preventing oil spills that damage the environment. The court agreed unanimously with the position taken by the U.S. Justice Department and the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, stating that four key parts of the tanker regulations were preempted by federal law.
The regulations governing ocean-going tankers were adopted after the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident
, and were designed to impose stricter safety requirements on tankers than would be necessary under federal law. The rules drew protests from a number of foreign nations.
The court said that the regulations imposing general navigation watch procedures, English language skills for crew members, training and maritime casualty reporting requirements were
preempted by the comprehensive federal regulatory scheme governing oil tankers and interfere with the U.S. Coast Guard's long-standing authority to adopt uniform national rules.
The court ordered the remaining parts of the regulations to be sent back to the federal trial judge so that their validity may be reassessed. Those regulations include requirements setting maximum crew work hours, establish drug and alcohol-testing policies and other requirements on operating procedures and personnel policies.