July 28, 2022. U.S. Senator Markey and U.S. Representatives Barragán and Khanna sent an oversight letter to EPA, urging it to update and strengthen its proposed rule on dispersant use before finalizing it based on current science. The letter states, “New scientific research has demonstrated an urgent need for stronger regulations that better reflect the latest understanding of the risks that certain dispersants can pose to the environment and public health.”
The congressional letter then goes on to request more detailed information to “better understand EPA’s progress in issuing a long-overdue final rule on chemical dispersants that adequately protects human and ecological health.” The requests reveal a comprehensive understanding from the downstream symptoms of long-term harm to people and wildlife stemming from use of oil dispersants – to the upstream problems created by EPA’s failure to involve local governments and citizens in oil spill response planning.
For example, in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Congress tried to include local communities in oil spill preparedness and response planning. Critically, Congress tasked the states and local citizens with determining whether, or not, to use dispersants, as the local people would live with (or die from) the consequences of such use. When the EPA failed to implement key parts of the law, it allowed regional-level planners to usurp the authority of states and local communities. Like cascading dominoes, this led to a deadly situation for people and wildlife. During the BP disaster, the U.S. Coast Guard allowed experimental use of unlimited quantities of toxic dispersants in the deep sea and on the sea surface without first determining whether such use could be done safely—which proved to cause devastating harm to people and wildlife. The congressional letter calls for a written reply by August 30, 2022.
EPA’s second status report reveals intent to finalize rule without current science
July 29, 2022. EPA’s second court-ordered status report again failed to provide an update on reference oils (see February 2, 2022, entry). It further reveals no initiative from the EPA to supplement its proposed rule with current science. Instead, it suggests steady progress towards a final rule that is outdated before it is published. The more recent literature, showing that dispersants cause long-term harm to people and wildlife, raises a fundamental question of whether dispersants can be used safely in any waters of the U.S., as required by the Clean Water Act. If the EPA ignores this question—and the current science—it will be at the public’s peril.