EPA Faces New Lawsuit Over Dispersants
Public health, conservation and wildlife groups urge EPA to issue rule on chemical oil dispersants
A coalition of conservation, wildlife and public health groups in the Gulf region and in Alaska filed a citizen suit under the provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act today to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a rule on chemical oil dispersants. EPA’s current rules do not fulfill the requirements mandated by the Clean Water Act.
“We’re disappointed that the agency doesn’t seem to understand the widespread public urgency to initiate this rulemaking process,” said Jill Mastrototaro, Sierra Club Gulf Coast Protection campaign director. “If a spill or blowout happened tomorrow in the Gulf of Mexico, or any U.S. water for that matter, any dispersant that is used would not necessarily be safe for the waters, ecosystems, response workers or nearby communities.”
During the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, nearly 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants were dumped into Gulf waters with little knowledge or research into the chemicals’ toxic impacts. Currently, regulations dictating dispersants eligible for use in oil spills require minimal toxicity testing and no threshold for safety.
Over 5,000 petitions have been sent by residents across the Gulf Coast region urging EPA to use its authority to initiate comprehensive testing of oil dispersants and to create regulations that include safety criteria and identify acceptable waters and quantities for use. But EPA still has not created a new rule that will ensure that dispersants will be used safely in the next disaster.
“We sent EPA a notice of intent to sue in October 2010 following the debacle of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the unprecedented use of dispersants during that response,” said Earthjustice attorney Hannah Chang, who is representing the groups in court. “Our filing today will push EPA to take further action to follow through on its promise to get a much-needed rule in place.”
The Clean Water Act requires EPA to identify the waters in which dispersants and other spill mitigating devices and substances may be used, and what quantities can be used safely in the identified waters, as part of EPA’s responsibilities for preparing and publishing the National Contingency Plan. The plan governs responses to discharges of oil and hazardous substances. But the use of toxic dispersants in response to the Gulf oil disaster was implemented without prior understanding of the effect on the Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystems and human health. Groups in oil producing regions, represented by Earthjustice, claim that EPA’s current rules do not follow Clean Water Act guidelines, and as a result they are taking action to force EPA to carry out its legal responsibility.
“The damage in the Gulf has already been done,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “We need more effective and responsible EPA dispersant rules so that we are never caught unprepared and uninformed in a crisis situation again.”
Public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, Florida Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Alaska-based Cook Inletkeeper, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, WaterkeeperAlliance, and Sierra Club.
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