When state Assemblyman Jared Huffman introduced a bill in December to improve the containment of oil spills, he could not have imagined the calamity that would occur four months later in the Gulf of Mexico.
But the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting spill -- the worst in U.S. history, with no end in sight -- will be very much on state lawmakers' minds Monday as the Senate Environmental Quality Committee takes up Huffman 's AB234.
The bill would require ships that transfer oil to another vessel within state-regulated waters to deploy a floating barrier known as a boom before and during the fueling operation.
Current state regulations dictate how much boom should be released after a spill occurs, but they do not require that booms be deployed as a preventive measure.
Supporters of the bill, modeled after a similar law in Washington state, say pre-booming allows for the maximum possible containment in the event of a spill, limiting ecological and economic damage.
Over the past two years, California experienced 13 oil spills during vessel-to-vessel transfer operations along its coast, according to Huffman's office.
The most recent, the Oct. 30 Dubai Star spill, leaked 400 gallons of bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay. The Dubai Star did not deploy boom before the spill.
"You continue to learn every time there is a tragedy," said Huffman, D-San Rafael. "If we're not learning, that's just another layer to the tragedy."
The Gulf crisis is evidence of just how bad things can get in an oil spill scenario, he said. A U.S. government panel of scientists released findings on Thursday estimating that more than 100 million gallons of crude may have poured into the Gulf's fragile waters since April 20.
Huffman said he hoped the disaster would "provide a window of elevated consciousness" among his fellow lawmakers as they consider AB234.
"I'm hopeful it's going to help make all of us open to doing whatever we can in our part of the world to prevent spills from damaging our environment and our economy," he said.
AB234 originated as an energy-efficiency and water-conservation bill, but after stalling in the Senate last year, it was reframed to address oil spills. If it passes the Senate in its current form, it must go back to the Assembly.
Other measures scheduled to be heard in the Legislature this week: