Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Federal Court Says EPA Must Update Response Plan

A federal district court judge in California has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has a duty to update its national contingency plan for responding to oil and hazardous substance contamination, as mandated by the Clean Water Act.

In doing so in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge William. H. Orrick recently denied a motion by the EPA to dismiss arguments brought by Earth Island Institute and other plaintiffs, and also denied a motion from the American Petroleum Institute to intervene in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in January, compels the EPA to issue rules that restrict use of chemical agents to clean up oil spills, as these chemical dispersants have been proven to be more toxic than the oil itself to people, and the environment. The lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of California Berkeley and the Center for Biological Diversity on behalf of Earth Island Institute and its ALERT project, a campaign to ban toxic dispersants from use during oil spill response started after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Plaintiffs also include individuals who personally experienced the toxic effects of the chemical agent Corexit during the cleanup from the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound or the 2019 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Said Claudia Polsky, director of the UC Berkley Environmental Law Clinic, “this is the first time a court has addressed whether EPA has a duty to keep the cleanup plans current and effective. The court said ’yes’.”

Several plaintiffs in the case are based in Alaska, including Cook Inletkeeper and Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Executive director Pam Miller of Alaska Community Action on Toxics said the ruling is an important step toward protecting the health of oil spill workers and coastal communities from exposure to dangerous dispersant chemicals.

The lawsuit has been a long time coming, said Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist and activist in Cordova, Alaska, and author of two books on the Exxon Valdez disaster and its consequences.

Modern, up-to-date response tools are needed to protect coastal fisheries and the families and economies they support, especially now that climate change is opening up new shipping routes in the Arctic, said Bob Shavelson, director at Cook Inletkeeper

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