Going on Twenty Years: The Pollution Act of 1990 and Claims Against the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund

It is now well known that in the wake of the catastrophic EXXON VALDEZ oil spill off the coast of Alaska on March 24, 1989, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA or OPA 90). How far have we come since the passage of OPA? What issues remain outstanding? Although many issues raised by OPA have been resolved, or at least are subject to general agreement, a surprising number of issues remain unresolved or are evolving and in flux. Several of these issues relate to defenses under OPA, claims made to recover oil spill response or removal costs, and damages paid by the owners and operators of vessels from which there has been an oil spill or a substantial threat of an oil spill. This Article examines these issues, including the burden of proof to be applied in respect of such claims and the deference to be accorded to the agency operating under the United States Coast Guard that adjudicates and pays these claims.