In the wake of the mammoth oil spill near Valdez, Alaska, members of Congress have naturally been busy sponsoring all kinds of legislation to deal with similar catastrophes in the future. Some of the proposals make good sense.
For example, one bill would require oil companies to train emergency teams that could quickly respond to spills within five hours. The teams would be located at crucial regional points. They would be certified by the Coast Guard and subject to unannounced periodic drills. The cost would be carried by the oil companies.That seems like a reasonable requirement. The legislation would make private firms responsible to clean up their own messes and make sure they could react without crucial loss of time. That ought to be an elementary expectation where there are risks to the environment. One wonders why oil companies weren't already doing this.
At the moment, federal policy holds the spiller responsible for "timely" and "effective" cleanup of any spill, but as the Exxon experience shows, those words may be subject to all kinds of interpretation. Exxon clearly was caught off guard by the size of the disaster.
Oil companies perhaps have had the attitude of the man who didn't repair the leaky roof on his house because it wasn't raining. Well, in that sense, it's raining now.
Other bills in the congressional hopper include a proposal for a penny-a-gallon tax on all oil, domestic or imported, to create a $500 million fund that would be used for oil spill research and restoration.
Cleaning up spills is a messy, difficult job and not enough is understood about how best to deal with the task. More effective tools for any cleanup are needed as well.
The best part of most of the legislative measures is that they put the burden where it belongs: On the oil companies instead of the taxpayer. But don't underestimate the ability of the oil companies to pass the cost of their mistakes along to consumers at the gas pump.