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International Ass'n of Indep. Tanker Owners v. Lowry

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20676
Nos. No. C95-1096C, 947 F. Supp. 1484/(W.D. Wash., 11/18/1996)

The court holds that Washington oil spill prevention laws are not preempted by federal statute, do not violate the Commerce Clause or Foreign Affairs Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and are not improper extraterritorial restrictions. The court first holds that the language, structure, and legislative history of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) indicate that the OPA's express nonpreemption language applies to the Washington statutes and regulations. The OPA made clear that Congress places a high priority on reducing the threat of oil pollution and that states may impose additional requirements to meet these goals. The court then holds that the Washington statutes and regulation are not impliedly preempted by federal law. The Washington regulations govern vessel operations to protect the state's natural resources and waters, and state regulation of water pollution and of tanker operations arising from the peculiarities of local waters are not subject to implied preemption. The court then holds that one of the Washington statutes and several of the regulations are not expressly preempted by U.S. Coast Guard regulations. Congress did not intend to give the Coast Guard authority to preempt state law with regard to the prevention of oil spills and the OPA's nonpreemption language prohibits the Coast Guard from doing so. The Washington laws are also not in direct conflict with the 1995 amendments to the Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) treaty. To the extent that the regulations require earlier implementation of the new STCW standards, compliance with state and federal law will not be a physical impossibility.

The court then holds that the laws do not violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The laws are not impermissibly aimed at regulating commerce or otherwise impeding interstate trade to protect state business interests. In addition, given the relatively minimal cost of compliance as compared to the cost of an oil spill, plaintiff cannot demonstrate that the incidental burdens on interstate and foreign commerce are clearly excessive in relation to the benefit offered by the oil spill prevention statutes and regulations. The court next holds that Washington's laws do not violate the Foreign Affairs Clause of the Constitution. Washington is not acting in the federal government's place vis-à-vis a foreign or international body, but is instead exercising its police power by regulating both foreign and domestic tankers to protect the environment. Moreover, the state's decisions in this area are not keyed to any judgment as to the worthiness of a foreign regime. Last, the court holds that the regulations do not impermissibly impose obligations on tanker operators that go beyond the three-mile limit of Washington territorial waters. While some of the activities required by the regulations are likely to occur outside of Washington, such occurrences are not mandated. Further, some incidental impact on extraterritorial activities is permitted to protect state resources.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Jonathan Benner
Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott
2100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 600, Washington DC 20037
(202) 659-6600

Counsel for Defendants
William B. Collins, Ass't Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
905 Plum St., Bldg. 3, Olympia WA 98504
(360) 753-6200