United States v. Locke
Annotate this Case
529 U.S. 89 (2000)
OCTOBER TERM, 1999
UNITED STATES v. LOCKE, GOVERNOR OF WASHINGTON, ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No.98-1701. Argued December 7, 1999-Decided March 6, 2000*
After the supertanker Torrey Canyon spilled crude oil off the coast of England in 1967, both Congress, in the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 (PWSA), and the State of Washington enacted more stringent regulations for tankers and provided for more comprehensive remedies in the event of an oil spill. The ensuing question of federal pre-emption of the State's laws was addressed in Ray v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 435 U. S. 151. In 1989, the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska, causing the largest oil spill in United States history. Again, both Congress and Washington responded. Congress enacted the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). The State created a new agency and directed it to establish standards to provide the "best achievable protection" (BAP) from oil spill damages. That agency promulgated tanker design, equipment, reporting, and operating requirements. Petitioner International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko), a trade association of tanker operators, brought this suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against state and local officials responsible for enforcing the BAP regulations. Upholding the regulations, the District Court rejected Intertanko's arguments that the BAP standards invaded an area long pre-empted by the Federal Government. At the appeal stage, the United States intervened on Intertanko's behalf, contending that the District Court's ruling failed to give sufficient weight to the substantial foreign affairs interests of the Federal Government. The Ninth Circuit held that the State could enforce its laws, save one requiring vessels to install certain navigation and towing equipment, which was "virtually identical to" requirements declared pre-empted in Ray.
Held: Washington's regulations regarding general navigation watch procedures, crew English language skills and training, and maritime casualty reporting are pre-empted by the comprehensive federal regulatory scheme governing oil tankers; these cases are remanded so the
*Together with No. 98-1706, International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko) v. Locke, Governor of Washington, et al., also on certiorari to the same court.
validity of other Washington regulations may be assessed in light of the considerable federal interest at stake. Pp. 99-117.
(a) The State has enacted legislation in an area where the federal interest has been manifest since the beginning of the Republic and is now well established. Congress has, beginning with the Tank Vessel Act of 1936, enacted a series of statutes pertaining to maritime tanker transports. These include the PWSA, Title I of which authorizes, but does not require, the Coast Guard to enact measures for controlling vessel traffic or for protecting navigation and the marine environment, 33 U. S. C. § 1223(a), and Title II of which, as amended, requires the Coast Guard to issue regulations addressing the design, construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, operation, equipping, personnel qualification, and manning of covered vessels, 46 U. S. C. § 3703(a). Congress later enacted OPA, Title I of which, among other things, imposes liability for both removal costs and damages on parties responsible for an oil spill, 33 U. S. C. § 2702, and includes two saving clauses preserving the States' authority to impose additional liability, requirements, and penalties, §§ 2718(a) and (c). Congress has also ratified international agreements in this area, including the International Convention of Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). Pp.99-103.
(b) In Ray, the Court held that the PWSA and Coast Guard regulations promulgated under that Act pre-empted Washington's pilotage requirement, limitation on tanker size, and tanker design and construction rules. The Ray Court's interpretation of the PWSA is correct and controlling here. Its basic analytic structure explains why federal preemption analysis applies to the challenged regulations and allows scope and due recognition for the traditional authority of the States and localities to regulate some matters of local concern. In narrowing the preemptive effect given the PWSA in Ray, the Ninth Circuit placed more weight on OPA's saving clauses than they can bear. Like Title I of OPA, in which they are found, the saving clauses are limited to regulations governing liability and compensation for oil pollution, and do not extend to rules regulating vessel operation, design, or manning. Thus, the pre-emptive effect of the PWSA and its regulations is not affected by OPA, and Ray's holding survives OPA's enactment undiminished. The Ray Court's prefatory observation that an "assumption" that the States' historic police powers were not to be superseded by federal law unless that was the clear and manifest congressional purpose does not mean that a presumption against pre-emption aids the Court's analysis here. An assumption of nonpre-emption is not triggered when the State regulates in an area where there has been a history of significant federal presence. The Ray Court held, among other things, that Con-
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