Exxon Valdez and OPA 90: How congressional reaction to a major oil spill changed the U.S. Coast Guard

Only several hours after departure on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker grounded on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, spilling about 11 million gallons of oil. This became the largest oil spill in U.S. history to that date in terms of volume and environmental impact. The inadequacy of the initial spill response drew heavy criticism and prompted the introduction of many bills which were combined into the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90). Congress unanimously voted to pass the measure on August 18, 1990. The U.S. Coast Guard was delegated the authority for implementing OPA 90, which entailed 40 rulemaking projects and 10 major studies. OPA 90 has had significant, long-term impacts on the Coast Guard, which now reviews and approves—or sends back for amendment—spill response plans for all large vessels planning to operate in U.S. waters, as well as many waterfront facilities. Initially, the maritime industry strongly opposed OPA 90 and the implementation efforts. After all, those regulations resulted in about $6 billion in added costs for the industry. In hindsight, the industry generally supports the program and it now acknowledges that ships are safer and less polluting than they were prior to OPA 90.


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  • Accession Number: 01679231
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Aug 13 2018 7:26PM