Keywords: environmental liability, International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (USA), oil spills, natural resource damage assessment
Compensation for natural resource damages from oil spills: a comparison of US law and international conventions
The basic measure of natural resource damages in USA environmental liability statutes is the cost of restoring the injured resources, plus compensation for the interim loss of resources from the time of injury until their full recovery. In contrast, until 1996, the international Convention Protocols addressing liability for accidental oil spills did not hold the responsible party liable for damages to natural resources, except to compensate for lost profits and earnings of commercial users of the resources. Recent developments, however, suggest that international and USA laws are converging. In the 1996 regulations implementing the natural resource liability provisions of the USA Oil Pollution Act (OPA), natural resource damages are quantified as the costs of a Restoration Plan designed to return resources to baseline and to compensate for interim losses. The 1992 international Convention Protocols, which entered into force in May 1996, include the costs of resource "reinstatement" measures, though a clear definition of the scope of "reinstatement", consistent with the restoration concepts in the OPA regulations, could provide an inclusive measure of damages for environmental harm. Furthermore, such a measure would not contravene the policy, previously articulated by the international organisation administering the compensation regime, that only losses quantifiable in financial terms may be claimed.