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Groups Oppose Oil Industry Entry in Oil Dispersants Lawsuit


Federal government needs to ensure safety of oil dispersants
 Washington, DC -- A coalition of conservation, fishing, and public health groups in the Gulf of Mexico region and in Alaska filed court papers late yesterday opposing the involvement of the American Petroleum Institute in a lawsuit about the federal government's responsibility to determine the safety of products used in response to oil spills.
The coalition, which includes Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Cook Inletkeeper, Florida Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Louisiana Shrimp Association, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance, filed a citizen suit on August 6, 2012 to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate the safety of chemical oil dispersants and other oil spill control agents, as required by the Clean Water Act. The groups assert that EPA’s current rules – which during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster failed to ensure that dispersants would be used safely – do not fulfill the requirements mandated by the Clean Water Act.
 The American Petroleum Institute (API) subsequently filed a motion in D.C. District Court to intervene in the case. API is the primary national trade association of the oil and gas industry.
Following is a statement from Hannah Chang, attorney with public interest law firm Earthjustice, which is representing the groups in court:
“We want the federal government to comply with the Clean Water Act to make sure that only dispersants that are safe for humans and the environment are used in the event of an oil spill.  We don’t need the American Petroleum Institute to be involved in this case arguing to maintain the status quo and pushing to weaken rules that should be more protective.”
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. 
Eight conservation, wildlife and public health groups in the Gulf region and in Alaska 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.  That filing today was intended to 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 took action to force EPA to carry out its legal responsibility.
EPA’s failure to have sufficient dispersant rules in place was one of the many causes of the confusion, concern, and uncertainty surrounding the response to the 2010 well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.  Approximately 1.84 million gallons of dispersants were applied in the Gulf despite widespread recognition that little was known about the health and environmental effects of applying such massive quantities of dispersants, and applying them beneath the ocean's surface.
As the federal government and BP waffled on dispersant use in the middle of the crisis, it became apparent how little testing and study had been done beforehand.  Even EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson readily acknowledged the agency’s lack of knowledge about the dispersants that were being applied. The result was a poorly planned, haphazard response, the effects of which will be felt for years to come. 
The damage in the Gulf amounted to nearly two million gallons of dispersants with essentially unknown environmental effects being released into the waters.  The lawsuit against EPA filed by the groups on August 6, 2012 is aimed at ensuring the U.S. is never caught unprepared and uninformed in such a crisis situation again.
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