The Oil Pollution Act was signed into law in 1990 by U.S. President George Bush. The Act was an almost immediate reaction to the crash of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez
near Alaska, which sent more than ten million gallons of crude oil spewing into the Pacific Ocean. Realizing the need for penalties, clean-up plans, and federal funding, the Oil Pollution Act was passed.
The OPA did a number of things designed to prevent oil spills in the future. It established a federal liability system for all spills; it developed a trust fund to assist in the cost of spill clean ups; it reinforced penalties against spills; and it required companies to create spill-scenario plans before being allowed to operate.
All oil tankers and facilities must have such plans, including solutions for the worst possible spills, and they must set out the details for training people and testing the equipment to be used. A company cannot legally operate until these plans have been approved by the Environment Protection Agency, the Coast Guard, and even the U.S. President.
Another new requirement in the OPA is that all new tankers must be built with double hulls as extra protection in the case of a
crash. According to the law, single-hulled tankers must be phased out by the year 2010.
The OPA deemed oil spillers responsible for virtually all cost attributed to a spill. Previously, they had only been charged with the costs incurred by the federal government. However, the law broadened that scope to include local government and private parties. The Act also created the Federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for use when the spiller is undetermined, not liable, or
not of the United States. This fund came with a $1 billion per incident cap, but this amount covers the entire expense of most spills.
The OPA does not replace state oil spill laws. It is within a state's power to enact stricter laws in addition to the federal regulations put in place by the OPA.
The passage of this law was seen as a victory for environmentalists. However, many activists are not yet satisfied and would prefer the federal government to go
father to ensure safety from oil spills.
The text of the law