Groups sue EPA, Coast Guard over dispersants use
By Dan Joling
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) —Three environmental groups are taking aim at how federal agencies approve dispersants to break up oil spills in marine waters.
The groups on Wednesday sued the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard, claiming the agencies have failed to make sure they know how chemicals in dispersants, and the reconstituted oil they target, affect endangered species.
"If chemical dispersants are going to be used after an oil spill, we have to know whether they'll hurt or kill whales, sea turtles and other wildlife. So far, the EPA has no idea," said Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, in announcing the lawsuit filed in San Francisco. "Unprecedented amounts of dispersants were dumped into the sea during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and they're likely still affecting the Gulf of Mexico, where dead dolphins continue to wash ashore."
A dispersant approved for the Gulf of Mexico, she said by phone, may have a far different effect on a polar bear off the coast of Alaska.
Under the Endangered Species Act, she said, agencies are required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding how their actions will affect endangered species and that is not being done.
Mark MacIntyre, a spokesman for the EPA in Seattle, said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
McDonnell said the lawsuit has two parts. On the nationwide level,
she said, EPA publishes a list of dispersants that could be used as part of a national contingency plan.
"They've never done an ESA consultation on that decision, to put a product on the list, and set down guidelines on how it should be used," she said.
It's the same with regional response plans, she said.
""They have been uneven on whether they've done the Endangered Species Act compliance," McDonnell said. "Some regions have done the consultation process with the National Marine Fisheries Service and some have not."
Region 10, covering Alaska, Washington and Oregon, is going through the process. The lawsuit contends oversight agencies should be going through the consulting process for Region 9, which covers California waters.
More than 1.8 million gallons of dispersants were used in the response to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, according to the lawsuit.
"That was a really huge, in the environment, unplanned experiment where dispersants were used in unprecedented quantities and different ways, using them subsea rather than just on the surface, and information is continuing to come out from that," McDonnell said.
Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enjoyment of the world's oceans, waves and beaches, and Pacific Environment are the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
"The whole idea is to have a better understanding of all these products, and when and where and how they can or can't be used safely," McDonnell said.
Copyright © 2012 San Jose Mercury News.
This article originally appeared here.
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