Keeping the Bay Safe from Oil
The Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act (MOSPA) was passed unanimously by the Massachusetts State Legislature and signed into law in August 2004 by Gov. Mitt Romney. The law, which the Coalition helped to draft, included mandatory tug escorts and navigational routes, as well as minimum staffing on oil tankers and barges.
In January 2005, the federal government filed a complaint in Federal District Court against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts challenging the Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act. The Buzzards Bay Coalition intervened in order to assist the state in defending this landmark legislation.
Since then, the Coalition and the Commonwealth have been fighting to maintain the protections in court and through subsequent legislation in 2008. Thanks to those efforts, the Bay has been protected by escort tugs for most of that time. There has not been a major oil spill in Buzzards Bay in that time, which demonstrates the effectiveness and the necessity of this law.
However, the Coast Guard continues to fight to remove the number one protection against oil spills in Buzzards Bay: that all vessels carrying oil through the Bay are escorted by a tug to assist if needed.
In May 2011, after years of motions, arguments, and appeals, the Court found that the U.S. Coast Guard violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it issued navigational rules for Buzzards Bay that were weaker than the original Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act the Buzzards Bay Coalition drafted and helped pass in 2004.
Specifically, the decision directs the Coast Guard to do a further environmental analysis for their rulemaking and the Court lifted the injunction against the state on the enforcement of the 2004 MOSPA. This means the state can enforce the requirement of tug escorts for both single and double hull vessels and enhanced manning for tank barges and towing vessels. The now-invalid 2007 Coast Guard rule required only tug escorts for single hulls, abandoning any new protections for the safe navigation of double hulls in Buzzards Bay.
In 2014 — ten years after the law was passed — the Coast Guard and the oil transport trade association have renewed their efforts to invalidate MOSPA. The Coalition, together with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, opposed this effort, and in February 2015 the Coast Guard and the oil transport trade association withdrew their request to reopen the case challenging MOSPA.
The Coalition will continue to work with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to protect Buzzards Bay from oil spills.
During the 2003 Bouchard 120 disaster, the state of Massachusetts and the Coast Guard designated the Coalition as the volunteer coordinator for the oil-spill response. As such, we coordinated the public reporting phone line and trained hundreds of volunteers in wildlife rehabilitation, shoreline assessment, and public outreach. We also participated in beach inspections on behalf of the towns of Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Marion, Bourne, Falmouth, and Fairhaven, plus Naushon Island. Our advocacy led to the enhancement of municipal participation in these shoreline inspections and resulted in additional cleanup.
On March 21, 2013, a vessel ran aground near the Stony Point Dike, spilling up to 350 gallons of gear oil into Buzzards Bay. The spill response included over a dozen local, state, and federal agencies and the Coalition. The rapid, aggressive response helped minimize the impact of this small spill. It is this type of response that the Coalition helped communities prepare for when we guided the creation of Geographic Response Plans for oil spills in Buzzards Bay in the wake of the Bouchard 120 spill nearly 10 years ago.