States concerned about proposed Coast Guard rule

By Phuong Le / The Associated Press

SEATTLE — As the U.S. Coast Guard moves to assert its federal authority over maritime issues, officials in Washington, Alaska and other states are concerned by what it may mean for states’ rights in preventing oil spills.

State officials in California, Washington and New York have asked the Coast Guard to withdraw rules it proposed in December, and say they’re concerned the rules would limit the states’ role in protecting citizens from vessel accidents and pollution.

The Coast Guard rules outline a number of regulations it says has a pre-emptive effect on state and local law. It clarifies its federal authority over areas such as vessel safety and inspection, small passenger vessels, marine accident reporting and other areas.

In comments to the agency, some state official say the rules are too broad. The rules would interfere with or create confusion about state-specific laws regarding spill reporting, tug boat escorts or oil spill contingency plans, they say.

For example, Washington requires tug escorts for all tankers entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca and headed for Washington ports. But under the proposed rules, the state would be prevented from requiring those escorts, said Maia Bellon, the state’s Ecology Director.

“This is not acceptable to protect our waters,” she said at a hearing last month.