US Failed to Assess Oil-Spill Penalties

A NEW problem involving oil and the environment has just oozed to the surface. Although the federal government has found more than 16,000 violations of environmental and safety rules in the past four years duringoil drilling off the shores of the United States, it has not assessed a single civil penalty for any violation, says Rep. George Miller (D) of California.

``A recreational boater who dumps a quart of oil into a lake is more likely to be fined than an oil company that fails to check its pollution-control devices or spills oil into the ocean,'' Representative Miller said in releasing the statistics Wednesday.

The chairman of the House Water, Power, and Offshore Energy Resources subcommittee, Congressman Miller has been critical of the oil industry and the federal government for not effectively cleaning up and preventing oil spills.

Added to the problem of spills is what Miller calls ``the lack of enforcement'' of the existing 1978 law that puts environmental and safety regulations on offshore oil drilling. Miller says nonenforcement is ``further evidence'' that the industry and the administration are indifferent ``to the hazards posed by the production and transportation of oil.''

From 1980 through 1982 the Interior Department assessed some 32 fines for violations of offshore oil regulations, according to information that Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. sent to Miller.

Secretary Lujan wrote that the assessments stopped after the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in 1983 required a change in the way the federal government assesses violations. Lujan explained that in the ruling the Louisiana court said that civil penalties could be assessed only after the government had given notice of the violation to the oil firm responsible, and had allowed a ``reasonable period'' of time for that firm to take corrective action.

Six years later representatives of the Interior Department and the Office of the Solicitor are trying to come up with guidelines that will meet the court's requirements, Lujan said.

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