Oil Pollution Act of 1990

Oil Pollution Act of 1990

What is the Oil Pollution Law of 1990

The US Congress enacted the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) to streamline and strengthen the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prevent oil spills. It was adopted as an amendment to the Clean Water Act of 1972 following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 is one of the most important and critical environmental laws never adopted.

Key points to remember

  • The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 expanded the power of federal agencies to prevent and punish massive oil spills.
  • It was adopted by the US Congress in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
  • The law was passed as an amendment to the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Understanding the Oil Pollution Law of 1990

The Oil Pollution Act was designed to establish a comprehensive federal framework that would prevent future spills and to develop cleanup procedures in the event of a spill emergency. The primary enforcement and administration of the law is provided by the United States Coast Guard and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Prior to the adoption of the OPA, federal pollution legislation had been an ineffective network of weak enforcement and insufficient responsibility for polluters. The OPA has sought to resolve this problem by establishing more stringent standards for the transportation of oil by sea:

  • New requirements for shipbuilding and staff training.
  • Emergency planning requirements.
  • Improved federal response capacity.
  • Enlarged enforcement authority.
  • Increased penalties for polluters.
  • Continuation of research and development programs for cleaning and storage technology.
  • Increase in potential liability.
  • Increased financial responsibility requirements.

Liability under the OPA

The takeover primarily focuses on financial and other liability that the law imposes on any party found responsible for a destructive oil spill. Any company identified as a responsible party is subject to virtually unlimited cleaning costs. However, any claimant requesting reimbursement of cleaning costs must first make a request directly to the culprit. If the responsible party refuses, a claimant can then take legal action against the company or request it directly from a civil liability trust fund in the event of an oil spill.

The Liability Trust Fund was created in 1986, before the Valdez incident. It was created to fund cleanup efforts and damage assessments and to cover unmet private liability on the part of a responsible party. The trust is financed by a tax, both on domestic production and on imports, of petroleum products.

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