House kills restrictions on liability for oil spills

ANNAPOLIS — ANNAPOLIS -- Fears about damage to the environment and personal property outweighed a desire to make the port of Baltimore more competitive yesterday, as the House of Delegates killed a bill to limit the financial liability from oil spills.

House Bill 683 would have placed a cap of $10 million on any damage to third parties in case of an oil spill in Maryland waters.


Third parties could include the owners of waterfront property, boats, tourist attractions or any other property damaged by an oil spill. The bill would not have limited financial responsibility for environmental damage or personal injury.

After long, impassioned debate, the House made the rare move of rejecting a bill on its third and final reading. The 63-60 vote in favor of the bill fell eight votes shy of the necessary 71 votes to reach a majority in the House.


The oil spill legislation pitted environmentalists against shipping interests, which argued that, unless Maryland matches Virginia's million limit on liability, the port of Baltimore will steadily lose business.

"If we don't pass this bill," said Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Kent, "and insurance becomes unavailable, the harbor's gone. The Inner Harbor's gone. Forget it." As chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee, he shoulders the responsibility for defending his committee's bills before the full House.

But loud, long arguments from Del. Gary R. Alexander, D-Prince George's, among others, helped kill the bill. Mr. Alexander said the language was so vague it could have let some companies off the hook for the serious damage they cause.

"This does not make the port of Baltimore competitive," he said. "What it does is it puts the environment at risk."

Waste-burning ban

The House, by a vote of 129-4 passed House Bill 1227, which temporarily prevents the burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns. The bill was passed specifically to stop the Independent Cement Corp., a Hagerstown cement company, from using hazardous waste as a fuel for its cement kiln.

Chemical companies and others fear that the temporary moratorium could also be extended to all attempts to build hazardous-waste incinerators, and raise the costs for businesses that must ship wastes out of state.

But during debate on the bill last week, proponents blasted the industry for putting profit ahead of the health of Marylanders.