Presidential commission begins hearings in New Orleans

President Obama’s commission on BP’s oil drilling disaster began two days of hearings this morning in a conference room in the New Orleans Hilton.The commission, led by former Florida Senator Bob Graham and former EPA administrator William Reilly, will take up the issue of the disaster’s environmental impact tomorrow.But already today the unprecedented volume of dispersants being sprayed in the Gulf of Mexico, an issue GRN continues to focus on, has come up. You can read more about GRN’s research into dispersants here.Frances Beinecke, a commission member and president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, asked U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Neffenger if federal agencies were concerned about the potential impacts in the Gulf from the hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemicals like Corexit 9500/9527 being sprayed at the deep sea site of the blownout well and on the surface every day.”Initially, there was not the expectation that you would be using dispersants over this perid of time,” Neffenger said. “There’s a general desire to keep the volume down to as low a level as possible.” But BP has routinely exceeded limits set by the EPA on the amount of dispersants to be used in the Gulf with the Coast Guard’s consent, as Mother Jones recently reported.And the Gulf Restoration Network has learned that the EPA has only recently begun testing the toxicity of disperstants combined with oil.”They are quite concerned about the long term effects of dispersant use,” Neffenger said of the EPA.”It is not the desired first choice, but it is a tool you sometimes turn to when you think you don’t have another option,” he said.A woman in the ballroom broke in during Neffenger’s testimony, saying she was outraged by the government continuing to allow the use of disperants.”I cannot wait, I cannot stand this,” she said before being escorted out by security guards. “Everyone has to get upset with this.”Matthew Preusch is a campaign volunteer with the Gulf Restoration Network.

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