Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization Challenges EPA's Proposed Clean Water Protection Regulations Claiming Evasive Bureaucratic Language Masks Outdated Science

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While the five-year anniversary mark for the catastrophic 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has captured renewed media and public attention, few discussions seem to be addressing conflicting science on oil spill clean up chemicals, alleged to be one the most ‘insidious and invisible’ threats to earth’s oceans combined with a ‘broken emergency response system for addressing hazardous chemical spills in the United States’.

Photo by Joy Tessman

2010 Oil Spill, Dividing Line

The objective of Cooperative Ecology - is to generate improved science and policy that increases the survival potential and productivity for all interdependent life to a level of balanced abundance, guaranteeing mutual perpetuity. Lawrence Anthony

On Earth Day 2015, the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization (LAEO) launched an aggressive ‘Take Action for Earth’s Waters’ program challenging some of the logic in the EPA's National Contingency Plan for Oil and Hazardous Spills. Its explicit purpose is to deal with what LAEO is calling “a threat posed by permissiveness and complacency in a complicated morass of clean water protection regulations that will inevitably result in the destruction of our oceans and waters”.

For the first time in twenty-one years, major regulatory revisions have been proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address concerns over this system and the chemicals used to clean up spills. LAEO with its alliance of oil spill response professionals and advisors allege that several sections of the revisions “contain elusive and/or ambiguous language that provide easy pathways for hazardous chemicals to enter our oceans and waters”.

The EPA published its new rules in the Federal Register in February with a 90-day public comment period, which ironically, just ended on Earth Day, April 22nd. Having researched spill response deficiencies in U.S. regulations since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the LAEO has issued a series of publications to educate regulators and the public on system gaps, solutions as well as Cooperative Ecology Thinking. The group plans to distribute their EPA Public Comment Recommendations to industry and regulators globally asking that they join LAEO in collaborative research projects for optimizing oil spill response systems.

“The threat isn’t the inevitable ocean spills, pipeline bursts and train derailments--it is the crazy idea that spills cannot truly be cleaned up despite there being technology and solutions that already exist to fully remove these pollutants,” said LAEO VP Operations Diane Wagenbrenner. “We believe our recommendations are constructive and helpful to the EPA; however, regardless of what they do with them, we will continue to work with all stakeholders until better solutions are implemented,” she continued.

How the EPA will deal with the more than 350 submitted public comments on their revised rules is unknown. The American Petroleum Institute, along with other industry groups, asked for an extension on the 90-day period, which was denied. Given that these revisions are based, in part, on lessons learned during the 2010 BP blowout, many oil spill response professionals are anxious to get into an implementation phase.

Richard Charter, an oil spill response veteran and Senior Fellow with The Ocean Foundation, sheds light on that in his submitted public comment saying: “Determining whether or not to approve the application of chemical dispersants to maritime spills of crude oil or refined petroleum products is often one of the most controversial and consequential decisions facing resource managers. Proposals for much-needed revisions to an ineffective framework of confusing regulations are long overdue, and while the present iteration of proposed changes...represents a good start, more needs to be done to respond to the issues raised in our subsequent comments.”

LAEO and its Change Oil Spill Response Global Alliance point out that the conglomerate of 14 U.S. government agencies with environmental protection responsibilities and multiple layers of protectors and enforcers are very aware that they do not have truly workable solutions for dealing with oil and hazardous chemical spills. Many environmental groups and professionals have expressed valid concerns in their public comments that 5 years past the BP/Gulf spill should have produced better protections. However, according to most, lessons have not been learned re the “insidious and invisible” dangers of chemical dispersants which appear to still have a dominant position in oil spill response and EPA’s proposals.

"Our oceans are being broken because of a dysfunctional system that can actually be fixed. Those responsible for fixing it are not doing so, hence, we along with qualified environmental science and other professionals must form a strong alliance to take this on ourselves,” said Barbara Wiseman, LAEO’s International President.

The question remains; will the new EPA proposals protect our waters from oil and hazardous chemicals? Time will tell. But many are saying--we no longer have the time to tell.

Photo by Joy Tessman

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