The American Waterways Operators (AWO) officially went on record in the U.S. Supreme Court
in support of the preemptive authority of federal statutes and regulations governing vessel operations. AWO is supporting the position of Intertanko and the U.S. in a challenge to a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court on the extent to which the State of Washington
can regulate the operation of tank vessels.
In a "friend of the court" brief filed with the Supreme Court, AWO asserted the Circuit Court's decision is a threat to the uniformity of federal and international standards vital to interstate transportation and, unless reversed, federal safety rules and regulations could be rendered inconsequential. The AWO brief argues the Ninth Circuit Court fundamentally misinterpreted the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Ray v. Atlantic Richfield Co., in which the limits of state regulatory authority over federally regulated vessels were carefully defined.
The brief further states the Circuit Court decision ignores the preemptive nature of acts of Congress, such as OPA 90 and the Ports and Waterways Safety Act, which grants the USCG the authority to prescribe regulations that preempt state or local law.
The brief cites the example of a decision taken by Rhode Island to unilaterally require a phase-out of single-hull tank vessels in state waters fully 14 years before the time prescribed by Congress in OPA 90. The AWO brief notes, "…any harmony between federal and international standards will be meaningless if the state governments are free to frustrate the federal objectives by prescribing their own laws on the same subject."
The AWO brief concludes, if the Circuit Court decision is not overturned, "the industry's ability to provide the nation with a cost-efficient and energy-efficient alternative to its interstate transportation needs will be seriously undermined."