This month, a federal district judge rejected an out-of-state oil shipping industry group’s legal challenges to state oil spill protection laws for Buzzards Bay. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper represents a complete denial of efforts to invalidate the provision of the Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act that requires all oil barges to be guided through the Bay by a tugboat escort.
“There is no disagreement here in Massachusetts about what works to prevent oil spills in Buzzards Bay and for more than a decade we’ve successfully implemented a model program,” Coalition President Mark Rasmussen said. “Ironically, after all of these lawsuits, I’ve come to the sad realization that it’s actually our state’s success that is most dangerous to the oil transport industry. But each court win strengthens the law and our resolve as we remain vigilant against any efforts to weaken protections for our coast.”
MOSPA was enacted in 2004 in response to the Bouchard 120 oil spill in Buzzards Bay. In response to the disaster, the Coalition led the successful effort to draft and win passage of the state law, which has survived repeated challenges. The law requires tugboat escorts for all barges carrying oil through Buzzards Bay.
The most recent legal challenge came from the tug & barge industry group American Waterways Operators (AWO), which filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Coast Guard in October 2018 to challenge the validity of the tugboat escort requirement. The Coalition and Massachusetts State Attorney General Maura Healey joined the case as intervenors in opposition to the group’s challenge.
The Coalition’s senior attorney Korrin Petersen said the tugboat escort requirement is a common-sense measure that is regularly used by local mariners.
“What was most puzzling about AWO’s case was how it was in direct conflict with their members who transit Buzzards Bay. The local tug and barge companies who operate here have welcomed the assistance of an escort tug and rely on it regularly.” Petersen said. “Mariners who frequent our often-dangerous Bay know that having an escort tug on hand to help prevent accidents just makes sense.”
Each year, more than 2 billion gallons of oil pass through Buzzards Bay. It is a major transport route for barges carrying oil and gasoline through Cape Cod Canal to Boston and northern New England. The tugboat escort requirement has documented benefits in preventing oil spills.
The Coalition is grateful for the continued Pro Bono representation of Jonathan Ettinger at Foley Hoag LLP in defending the Bay from future oil spills. Ettinger has worked with BBC since 2005 on this issue and was recognized with the Buzzards Bay Guardian Award in 2011.