EPA faces new lawsuit over dispersants under the Clean Water Act

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. The groups claim EPA’s current rules do not fulfill the requirements mandated by the Clean Water Act.

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 7, 2012 - 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. The groups claim 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. 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.

“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.
The groups believe the use of 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. Approximately 1.84 million gallons of dispersants were applied in the Gulf following the spill.

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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