Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: EDITORIAL: Securing response: Alaska’s senators seek to solidify funding for oil spill response fund

Alaska's senators have offered a small change to federal law that would help ensure money is available for rapid, large-scale response to oil spills such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich introduced legislation that would extend and expand funding for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The federal fund is fed by an eight-cent tax on every barrel of oil. It has about $1.6 billion in it, but that might not be enough to handle large or multiple spills. The senators want to bring it up to $10 billion.

That seems like a wise course. This fund has never had the security it needs in federal law. It was created before the Exxon Valdez oil spill but was never funded. After that disaster, Congress allowed a five-cent per barrel tax to collect in the account for four years before cutting it off.

Federal agencies then went to work feeding on it. It became an annual revenue source for the various government bureaucracies charged with regulating the oil industry. For example, the fund spent $143 million in fiscal year 2004. But of that, only $40 million actually went to clean up any oil. The rest went to regulatory agencies trying to comply with the mandates in law.

As a result, the fund was nearly emptied before Alaska's congressional delegation managed to restart payments in 2005, this time at the eight-cent per barrel rate. But again, the authorization only lasted a few years. Congress again had to reauthorize the fee in 2008, and it will again expire in 2017.

Murkowski and Begich want to raise the fee to nine cents per barrel, let the fund grow to $10 billion and remove the sunset provision. They might also want to consider tightening limits on how it can be spent. The fund is a worthwhile source when large amounts of money must be spent on a severe oil spill, such as seems to be developing in the Gulf. But it needs to be funded and managed well so the money is there when it's needed.

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Source: Originally published May 07, 2010