Opinion: Remaining vigilant after 30 years

Exxon Valdez spurred both federal and state legislatures, the industry, and the public to come together

  • By Shaylon Cochran
  • Thursday, July 21, 2022 11:39pm
  • Opinion

By Shaylon Cochran

It’s almost hard to believe it’s been more than 30 years since the Exxon Valdez oil spill. One reason is because the work done since then has prevented a slide back into complacency by continuing to apply the lessons learned in the immediate aftermath of the spill.

Exxon Valdez spurred both federal and state legislatures, the industry, and the public to come together to establish laws protecting sensitive resources from another spill.

One of those, Alaska House Bill 567, celebrated its 30th anniversary on June 25. This law created, among other things, Alaska’s world-class set of spill response regulations. Federal legislation would reinforce these principles in 1990, when the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council (CIRCAC) was created. We represent 13 diverse groups from Kodiak to Anchorage including Alaska Native groups, municipal governments and public interests like fishing, tourism, aquaculture, recreation and environmental concerns. We work closely with regulators and the industry to ensure not only that those interests are recognized and accounted for in response planning, but also to keep the public informed about issues that could potentially compromise the ability to effectively respond to an incident.

When it was clear that the planned response to Exxon Valdez was woefully inadequate to the unprecedented scope of the spill, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation took a lead role in adapting response strategy to meet those challenges. The end result was the most comprehensive suite of oil spill response strategies ever imagined. We remain committed to those laws and over the ensuing 30 years, we have worked to add strength and clarity to them.

When Gov. Steve Cowper finally signed HB 567 into law in the waning hours of the legislative session on June 27, 1990, the bill’s passage signaled that opposing interests could come together in relatively short order, and under great pressure, to do the right thing.

That is a lesson that can never be taught enough, even after 30 years.

Shaylon Cochran is the director of public outreach for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, established in 1990 to represent the citizens of Cook Inlet in promoting environmentally safe marine transportation and oil facility operations.

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