SACRAMENTO, CALIF., SEPT. 22 -- Saying "an ounce of prevention would certainly be worth a barrel of spilled crude oil," Gov. George Deukmejian (R) today signed into law the nation's most comprehensive offshore oil spill prevention and cleanup plan.

Deukmejian said the new law "will give California an unprecedented ability to prevent spills before they happen and to fight the effects of spills if they do occur."

The statute, which takes effect immediately, is a direct result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska last year and the British Petroleum tanker spill off Huntington Beach, Calif., last February.

Generally viewed as one of the major achievements of the recently concluded legislative session, it creates a $100 million oil spill cleanup fund to be financed by taxing each barrel of oil 25 cents more. The tax is expected to add less than a cent a gallon to the retail price of gasoline.

In the event of a spill, the state will have unlimited authority to borrow additional funds for cleanup operations that would be repaid by the oil companies.

The law empowers the governor to appoint a state oil spill "czar" or response administrator who will be charged with setting up a detailed comprehensive plan for the safe transportation of oil along California's coastline.

Oil companies transporting their product through state waters also must be able to demonstrate that they have $500 million worth of oil spill liability insurance.

For the first 60 days after a spill, cleanup crews will be immune from lawsuits for property damage that they may cause. Oil industry representatives contend that immunity from liability for professional cleanup crews is necessary because they must act quickly to prevent the spill from spreading and should not be inhibited by fears that they might be sued.

"Clean-up efforts, no matter how well carried out," Deukmejian said, "pale in effectiveness compared to solid prevention activities. In the case of oil spills, an ounce of prevention would certainly be worth a barrel of spilled crude oil."