Oil Spill Prevention

Progress Made in Developing Alaska Demonstration Programs Gao ID: RCED-93-178 August 5, 1993

In the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress established demonstration programs to spur local citizen oversight of oil and tanker operations in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet. A citizen advisory council funded by the oil industry was set up at each location to monitor the environmental impact of crude oil transport. In GAO's view, the demonstration programs produced many positive changes, significantly boosting citizen participation in environmental oversight. The programs have yet to evolve, however, into the effective citizen-industry-government partnership that Congress initially envisioned. Early disagreements, along with continuing dissension and mistrust, have slowed the development of the partnerships and have limited further improvements to environmental oversight and safety. In addition, participation by a key federal agency--the Environmental Protection Agency--is still lacking in one of the councils. Recent steps taken to improve the partnership are encouraging and should improve relations among the councils, industry, and government. It is premature, however, to conclude that communication and trust will improve to the point that the long-term success of the programs is ensured. If the programs are successful, they could serve as useful models for further program expansion. Periodic reports to Congress on the model programs' status, however, are not required.

GAO found that: (1) although the two demonstration programs have successfully increased citizen councils' involvement in environmental monitoring of oil terminal and tanker operations and stimulated public awareness, they lack adequate policies and procedures to build consensus and foster successful partnerships; (2) the lack of cooperation and consensus that remains between citizen councils, industry, and government can be attributed to disagreements concerning the design and scope of council projects, review and release of study results, extent of the councils' role in advocating change, and degree of participation by key federal agencies; (3) although the industry, government, and councils have established some policies and procedures to improve communication and strengthen partnerships, there is considerable mistrust between the industry and councils; (4) the Coast Guard has developed specific program guidelines to reduce the level of mistrust and ensure the long-term effectiveness of the programs; and (5) the citizen councils' policies, procedures, and internal controls for operations and funds management are adequate and include no material weaknesses or improprieties.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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