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Coast Guard returns to response plans
Originally published:  01/03/2011
The US Coast Guard (USCG) has reopened the comment period on two proposed rules relating to response plans for hazardous substance spills from tank vessels and marine-related transport facilities. USCG issued two notices of proposed rulemakings, USCG-1998-4354 and USCG- 1999-5705, in 1999 and 2000. These were intended to implement requirements put in place by the Oil Pollution Act 1990 (OPA 90) but were never followed through. USCG now intends to finalise the rulemakings in 2012 and has reopened the comment period to allow for any additional or updated comments. The comment period runs until May 18.
One element of OPA 90 was to amend the Clean Water Act so as to require owners or operators of tank vessels, offshore facilities and onshore facilities to prepare response plans to mitigate spills of oils and hazardous substances “that could reasonably be expected to cause substantial or significant and substantial harm to the environment” to prepare and submit response plans. These plans should address measures to respond to the maximum extent practicable to a worst-case discharge or a substantial threat of a discharge of oil or a hazardous substance into or on navigable waters, adjoining shorelines or the exclusive economic zone of the US.
In response to this mandate, USCG promulgated several rules regarding response plans for oil spills. The final rules for tank vessels and facilities were issued in January and February 1996. The rules for hazardous substances turned out to be more complicated, however, since the large number of different substances involved means it is impossible to develop standardised procedures.
Rather, the rules for hazardous materials response should centre on ensuring that access to the necessary information and equipment is available, as well as any appropriate technical expertise. It was the intention to accommodate the use of the National Response Team’s Integrated Contingency Plan (ICP) Guidance, published in June 1996, which provides a mechanism for consolidating multiple response plans into one functional emergency response plan, so minimising or eliminating duplication of information.
Congress has now reminded USCG of its obligations in this area. As part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act 2010 it was given 18 months to promulgate final rules.
Those who submitted comments to the initial proposals are invited to submit updated comments that may take into account new technologies, market developments or changes to industry practices.