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Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990

Authorizing Statutes

33 U.S.C. 2701 et seq.

This is the principal statute governing oil spills into the nation's waterways. The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was passed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March of 1989. The statute establishes liability and limitations on liability for damages resulting from oil pollution, and establishes a fund for the payment of compensation for such damages. In conjunction with CERCLA, it mandates a "National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP)" to provide the organizational structure and procedures for preparing for and responding to discharges of oil and releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, and contaminants. It requires preparation of spill prevention and response plans by coastal facilities, vessels, and certain geographic regions. OPA amended the Clean Water Act and includes the Oil Terminal and Oil Tanker Environmental Oversight and Monitoring Act of 1990.


Specific Natural Resource Trustee Authorities:

Section 1002:

  • establishes liability for injury to, destruction of, loss of, or loss of use of natural resources

Section 1006:

  • designates natural resource trustees
  • authorizes recovery of natural resource damages as the result of oil spills
  • defines natural resource damages to include—
    • the cost of restoring, rehabilitating, replacing or acquiring the equivalent of the damaged resources
    • the reasonable cost of assessing those damages, and
    • the diminution in values of those natural resources pending restoration
  • requires NOAA to promulgate regulations for assessing natural resource damages under OPA.