Washington - Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) have introduced legislation to replenish the federal trust fund that helps cover the costs of preventing and cleaning up oil spills. The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund will be exhausted by 2009 if additional funds are not contributed to it according to a recent report from the U.S. Coast Guard. The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund Maintenance Act of 2005 was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation which is chaired by Senator Stevens.
"The Trust Fund is an essential insurance policy allowing the nation to respond to future oil spills," said William K. Reilly, Chairman of the Board of World Wildlife Fund. "The Exxon Valdez oil spill happened just weeks after I became the EPA Administrator. At that time, our country was simply not prepared to cope with a spill of that magnitude. We did not have the financial resources and tools to respond quickly as we needed to. The Trust Fund was later expanded to fix that problem and its value has been underscored numerous times since."
The Trust Fund is financed by a nickel-a-barrel payment on domestic and imported crude oil. Over the past 15 years, the Fund has reimbursed government agencies for their expenditures to prevent spills, to respond, clean up, and restore damaged coastal lands and waters, and compensate victims of oil spills. The payment translates into less than a tenth of a cent per gallon at the gas pump.
The need for a fully funded Trust Fund was highlighted last year after the fuel oil spill in U.S. waters in the Bering Sea from the Malaysian freighter Selendang Ayu. The spill fouled nearby waters and beaches in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge affecting threatened and endangered species like the Steller sea lion, Aleutian sea otter and Steller eider. Home to a stunning array of wildlife, the Bering Sea is a priority for WWF. It is also the most productive commercial fishery in the world. Shipping disasters are a particular concern because ocean conditions can be treacherous in that region and it is home to some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.