Bill OK'd to expand oil-spill protection in Strait of Juan de Fuca

By:  By Tom Callis, Peninsula Daily News
Source: Peninsula Daily News

Congress passed a bill last week that will better protect the Strait of Juan de Fuca from oil spills.

The Coast Guard authorization bill, sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, was approved by the House early Thursday and sent to be signed by President Barack Obama.

The legislation improves safety standards for commercial fishing vessels and also extends the "high volume port area," which applies federal requirements for oil-spill-response equipment, to Cape Flattery.

The designation currently applies to Puget Sound and as far west as Port Angeles.

The Makah tribe worked closely with Cantwell's office to extend it to the entire Strait, said Chad Bowechop, the tribe's marine affairs manager.

Bowechop said he expects it to result in additional oil spill response equipment at Neah Bay. But when that will be accomplished, and what equipment will be added, has yet to be determined, he said.

Bowechop said the bill also ensures that tribes have a seat on the incident command of the regional oil response team overseen by the Coast Guard.

He said that will help better coordinate the response to an oil spill by state, local, federal and tribal governments.

"We worked very hard to get the tribal interests written in this bill because we fill a gap in spill response capabilities," Bowechop said.

The legislation also reforms a multibillion Coast Guard contracting program and places more restrictions on what vessels can enter the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Approximately 600 oil tankers and 3,000 oil barges travel each year through Puget Sound and carry about 15 billion gallons of oil to Washington refineries, according to Cantwell's office.