Fee hikes would boost oil-spill tactics 

As a ruptured oil well ruins livelihoods and Gulf of Mexico ecosystems, California’s defenses against a similar calamity could be boosted through new safety rules and increased oil taxes and shipping fees.

No oil rigs like BP’s Deepwater Horizon facility operate along Northern California’s coastline, but the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay are home to shipping traffic that has caused serious spills in recent decades.

Emergency responders took hours to reach oil spills in the Bay in 2007 and 2009, highlighting California’s vulnerability to disasters.

After 53,000 gallons of fuel spilled through a hull of the Cosco Busan container ship following a 2007 crash, state lawmakers passed 11 bills to prevent oil spills and improve responses.

Now, another bill is being crafted that would further enhance safety procedures and increase cleanup funding. Responsibility for responding to an oil spill is shared by the company that caused the incident, the Coast Guard and the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

The fund used by California’s oil spill office is replenished largely with taxes on oil products delivered in tanker ships to marine facilities — known as an oil delivery fee — and a $2,500 docking fee for nontanker ships. But the office’s $35 million to $40 million annual budget exceeds its revenue and a surplus could run out within two years.

In 1990, the oil delivery fee was set at 4 cents per barrel and last increased, to 5 cents, in 2002. If the fee was adjusted for inflation, it would exceed 6 cents today, a state legislative analysis found. Slightly more than 600 million barrels are taxed through the program annually.

While some legislation that passed following the Cosco Busan disaster actually became law, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed four bills, including one that would have increased the barrel tax to 8 cents.

A more modest hike was recently included in a bill that was drafted after shipping workers overfilled a tank of the Dubai Star tanker in October, sending hundreds of gallons into the Bay.

Assembly Bill 234 would require floating barriers to be laid around ships during refueling.

The legislation was amended recently by its author, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, to increase the oil tax to up to 6 cents per barrel and boost nontanker docking fees to $3,000, potentially raising $6 million annually to help fund cleanups.

Huffman said he’s considering adding language to mandate improved emergency planning for oil rig facilities in Southern California waters.

“The tragedy in the Gulf has created a window of opportunity here in California to make sure that we are at the cutting edge of prevention and response,” Huffman said.

Environmental groups support the legislation, which is opposed by shipping interests.


Funds running low for spill preparedness

Details of California’s Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fund:

$42.9 million 2010-11 projected revenue
$39.4 million 2010-11 projected expenditures
$3.5 million 2011 projected fund surplus
$6 million Proposed tax-based annual fund increase

Source: California Office of Spill Prevention and Response


Providing assistance

California’s oil spill equipment on loan in Gulf of Mexico

86,240 feet Floating absorbent boom
7 Oil-collecting skimmer boats
4,400 barrels Potential storage in oil containers

Source: California Office of Spill Prevention and Response


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