Head of EPA Shows Up in NOLA

On Lisa Jackson, head of EPA, met with non-governmental organizations in New Orleans to share information. Ms. Jackson reported that EPA has been focused on air, water, and sediment sampling to establish a baseline. This is critically important to show quantitatively what the BP oil drilling disaster will add to our environment. EPA is posting data on their website at www.epa.gov/bpspill.On subsea dispersant use, Ms. Jackson reported to us that there is very little scientific information about subsea dispersants. In order to help EPA figure out if this is something they should authorize, they conducted three pilot tests which entailed controlled releases of dispersant at the wellhead. The argument to use dispersants at the source is that these chemicals are more effective at keeping the oil off the surface. Once the oil becomes emulsified, the dispersants are less effective at breaking it up. The biggest downside to using dispersant under the sea is that long-term impacts are completely unknown. How will these complex chemicals of crude oil and dispersant impact marine species? How will we know how much oil is leaking out? Where will the oil+dispersant mixture go? How persistent will this toxic soup be in the Gulf?Nobody knows the answers to these questions Ms. Jackson admitted. So if EPA decides to grant BP permission to use subsea dispersant, we will be conducting quite a significant experiment on our marine environment. We requested that if EPA does decide to proceed, that they continue treating it as a pilot test and monitor and sample accordingly in order to better inform the public about the consequences and if using these dispersant was a good idea or not.The issue of BP’s contractors collecting data was flagged as a potential probelm for the gonverment and the public. Any data collected by BP paid contractors could be considered proprietary and owned by BP, meaning this data will not be available for public review. This is worrisome, since the company has an enormous financial incentive to scuttle any damning information. The EPA must declare that any and all data collected by BP employees or contractors on water, sediment, fish tissue, oiled or standed animals is public ASAP.There was a call by the groups to have a closer collaboration with the government on the long-term response and recovery process. Through our contacts with folks from Alaska who have been through this before, the idea of Citizen Advisory Councils was raised as a way to formalize the partnership between those directly affected and those responsible for the clean-up. There is a privision for this in the Oil Pollution Act and we are looking into that law now to determine the best way to go about pursuing that process.Before leaving, Ms. Jackson said that to get through this crisis she is relying on the values of her EPA: science, regulation, and transparency. We are hopeful she will succeed, but verifying everything nonetheless.

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