The state struck back at the federal government yesterday in a jurisdictional battle over who should regulate oil tankers in Massachusetts waters, asking a judge to force the Coast Guard to more quickly test crews for alcohol after accidents.
The Legislature enacted a law in August regulating oil tanker operations in state waters. Passed in response to the 2003 Buzzards Bay oil spill that contaminated 93 miles of shoreline in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the law set standards for alcohol testing, tug boat escorts, vessel routes, and insurance.
The federal government sued in January in US District Court, arguing that the law should be struck down because portions violate federal authority.
The lawsuit said routes are already designated for oil barges, crew requirements for tug escorts are governed by the Coast Guard, and drug and alcohol testing is set by federal law.
Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's office countersued yesterday, saying the federal government is violating its own 1998 law that requires the Coast Guard to establish procedures to test crew members for alcohol within two hours of a serious accident.
On April 27, 2003, a barge drifted out of the Cape Cod Canal and ripped a gash in its hull, spilling tens of thousands of gallons of oil. The barge's owner, Bouchard Transportation, agreed to pay $10 million fine for the spill, which shut down shellfishing grounds for months and was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of birds.
Alcohol testing was not performed on the tug boat crew until 18 hours after the accident, and was therefore of little use in determining whether crew members were impaired, the state argues. The tug's captain and mate both insisted they hadn't been drinking.
Although the Coast Guard issued a proposed rule more than two years ago that would require testing within two hours, it has yet to issue a final rule as required by law, the state says.
Steven Bressler, the federal government's lead attorney in the case, referred phone calls to Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller, who declined to immediately comment, saying he had not yet seen the state's counterclaim.