Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, says tankers such the Exxon ship that splashed oil across the Alaskan coast at Val-dez should be regulated in a way akin to the way the FAA controls airliners.
"This was a big problem but one that was clearly predictable," Owens said after returning from an inspection of the oil spill. "We have to find out what we can do to prevent them in the future. Congress will impose additional regulations to change, fundamentally, the way we control that port."Owens, Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., chairman of the National Parks subcommittee, Richard Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Appropriations Committee, and other members of Congress returned this week from inspecting the oil cleanup.
"The oil sloshed around unimpeded for five days," Owens charged. He said Exxon and the Alaska company that owns the pipeline, failed to have equipment on hand ready to clean up the inevitable spill.
He said the low estimate for the cleanup is $500 million but that it could go as high as $2 billion. He said that was still less than a year's profit for the big oil company.
"The oil has dirtied beaches with 4 to 5 inches of sludge," Owens said after wading on the oil-encrusted shoreline in Exxon-supplied boots.
He said sea animals and birds are suffering and noted that brown bears would come out of hibernation soon and eat oil-poisoned animals.
"I was always opposed to drilling on the Arctic National wildlife refuge," Owens said. "Now I'm opposed to even considering it."
Owens added that he would support legislation to prevent Exxon from deducting the cost of the cleanup from its taxes but was not sure Congress could accomplish that. He added that he would like to prevent oil companies from passing such costs on to customers but was doubtful that could be done.
He said Exxon's president had finally admitted the company was unprepared for the spill. Exxon is pouring up to $15 million a day into the cleanup, he said.
Owens said he will try to amend the Trans-Alaska pipeline legislation to require that it be subject to environmental laws.