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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oil Spill Safety Bill Fails, Supporters Vow to Bring It Up Again

- Oil Spill Safety Bill Fails, Supporters Vow to Bring It Up Again

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
San Jose Mercury News, Calif.
by Paul Rogers

With the state agency that regulates oil tanker safety facing potential layoffs, a bill to raise the fee that oil companies pay to fund California's oil spill safety programs failed Tuesday in the state Senate.

The bill, a priority for environmental groups, has been staunchly opposed by BP PLC and the Western States Petroleum Association.

"We're not done," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, the measure's author. "The fat lady hasn't sung. We still have a week and a half to bring it back."

The bill, AB 1112, already has passed the Assembly and needed 21 votes Tuesday to move to the governor's desk. But it failed, achieving 17 votes, with 14 senators voting no and nine not voting.

The bill would increase the fee that oil companies pay from 5 cents per barrel to 6.75 cents per barrel over the next three years. The money raises $25 million a year and provides the bulk of the budget for the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response, an arm of the state Department of Fish and Game.

State lawmakers passed the fee in 1990 after the Exxon Valdez spill to increase California's oil safety efforts. Since then, the amount of oil spilled into state waters has fallen by 95 percent. The money has funded emergency drills, tougher oversight of tankers and terminals, and scientific studies of oiled wildlife. Since the original fee passed, at 4 cents a barrel, it has been raised once, in 2002.

Capt. Scott Schaefer, administrator of the state oil spill agency, said that because of costs associated with new laws passed after the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, the fund will be $5 million in deficit by 2013 without an increase.

Huffman said he will bring the bill up again before the end of the legislative session, Sept. 9. All 17 who voted for the bill were Democrats. Twelve of the 14 no votes were from Republicans, many of whom oppose increasing state fees and taxes. Environmental groups were surprised that several senators from coastal areas did not vote, including Sen. Leland Yee, of San Francisco; Juan Vargas, of San Diego; Curren Price and Alex Padilla, of Los Angeles; and Sam Blakeslee, whose district extends from San Luis Obispo along Monterey Bay to south San Jose.

"Sen. Yee supports the bill," said his spokesman Adam Keglin afterward. "He was off the floor at the time. It will come back up, and he'll vote for it as is."

Copyright (c) 2011 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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