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Alaska groups join challenge of EPA oil dispersant rules

Alaska Dispatch

As Shell Oil continues its years-long wait to conduct offshore exploration in Alaska's Arctic, and as Cook Inlet oil and gas activity undergoes a renaissance, two Alaska-based environmental groups have joined a lawsuit challenging U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation of chemical dispersants used to break up oil spills.

Such dispersants sprang to public prominence during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, into which some 2 million gallons of dispersants were deployed. In the aftermath, people who felt the impact of releasing the chemicals into the Gulf was poorly understood have petitioned the EPA to initiate comprehensive safety testing and toxicity research of the chemicals, but new rules have not yet been instituted.

“The oil industry learned from the Exxon Valdez that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is its preferred spill response strategy, so the first tool out of the box these days is dispersants,” said Bob Shavelson with Alaska-based Cook Inletkeeper.  “But dispersants add toxic insult to injury for Alaskan fisheries and Alaskans have a right to know about toxic pollution around our coastal communities.”

On Monday, 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, Cook Inletkeeper, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Sierra Club.

The plaintiffs contend that the EPA's regulation of chemical dispersants is inadequate. A press release issued by Cook Inletkeeper explained that the suit seeks to compel the EPA to issue a rule on chemical oil dispersants that meets requirements mandated by the Clean Water Act. According to the lawsuit, current regulations dictating dispersants eligible for use in oil spills require minimal toxicity testing and no safety requirements.

Pamela Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, said "These dispersants would likely have devastating effects on the sensitive marine waters, fish, marine mammals and coastal communities of the Arctic, where plans for oil and gas development are proceeding without adequate spill prevention and response measures. We cannot allow a repeat in Alaska of the uncontrolled experiment with dispersants that followed the BP spill in the Gulf."

If successful, the lawsuit would compel the EPA to eventually revise the national oil spill response plan, including Alaska's, and require all existing spill response plans to meet the new rules.

Read more of the release at The Homer Tribune, here.