On June 2, 2020, a federal court ruled the Trump EPA must revise rules governing the Clean Water Act’s National Contingency Plan – which covers oil spill prevention and response in Alaska and across the United States. Inletkeeper joined Alaska Natives and other plaintiffs in the litigation to force EPA to comply with the law and to update rules around the use of dispersants during oil spills (see below).
“The Trump Administration is the most lawless in the history of our nation, and it’s been especially brutal on environmental and human health rollbacks,” said Inletkeeper Bob Shavelson. “So it’s important for citizens to stand-up to hold Trump and his EPA accountable.”
This is a case of first impression, meaning no other court has addressed this issue before. As a result, it sets an important precedent to ensure EPA regularly updates the science and technology around oil spill response, and protects the fragile coastlines in Alaska and across the nation that provide jobs and revenues for countless Americans.
Inletkeeper and the other plaintiffs were represented in the case by the U.C. Berkeley Environmental Law Clinic and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Original Post: Inletkeeper Joins Lawsuit to Stop Toxic Dispersants
On January 30, 2020, Cook Inletkeeper joined other plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in federal court to force the Trump EPA to overhaul the way dispersants are used to respond to oil spills.
The lawsuit argues EPA has dragged its feet too long by failing to address new science around the use of dispersants under the National Contingency Plan (NCP), which establishes plans and protocols to address oil spills under the federal Clean Water Act.
EPA last updated the NCP in 1994, despite the fact federal law requires EPA to update it periodically. Over the past 30 years, however, a large and growing body of literature shows dispersants added to spilled oil actually make things worse: one study found that dispersants mixed with oil are 52 times more toxic than just oil.
In response to public pressure from plaintiffs, the EPA finally initiated a rulemaking proceeding in early 2015 and invited public comment on the use of the dispersant Corexit in oil spill response actions. By the time the rulemaking comment period closed in April 2015, the agency had received over 81,000 responses, most of which called for reducing the use of chemical dispersants while decreasing their toxicity and increasing their efficacy. Since then, however, the EPA has been silent on the issue.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill taught the oil industry and government regulators that the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” is especially true when it comes to oil spills. Exxon struggled for years to combat the public relations nightmare of oiled beaches, dead otters and oil-coated sea birds.
So, when BP’s Deep Water Horizon drill rig blew-up in 2010 – killing 11 workers and pumping a geyser of oil into the Gulf of Mexico – BP immediately started to pump nearly 2 million gallons of dispersants around the well-head, in an effort to keep it out of sight in the water column. And the ecological devastation wrought by this toxic witches brew is still unfolding.
This situation is compounded, of course, by the Trump Administration’s reckless efforts to open U.S. coastlines from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest to the Eastern seaboard to more oil and gas drilling. Spills are inevitable. But we don’t have to make them worse with outdated science around the effectiveness and toxicity of dispersants.