Sunday, August 1, 2010

Markey gets it wrong about the Coasties and Corexit

On Saturday, US Representative Edward Markey, D-Mass., accused the US Coast Guard of being complicit in BP's "carpet-bombing" the Gulf of Mexico with Corexit, the oil dispersing chemical BP applied to the crude as it was gushing up from the runaway Macondo well. BP, and in some instances the Coast Guard itself, also applied the dispersant on the surface using aerial spraying equipment.

Markey laments that BP and the Coast Guard's frequent and copious use of the chemical violated an EPA order to BP, which instructed the company to only use Corexit in "rare cases."

The U.S. Coast Guard has routinely approved BP requests to use thousands of gallons of toxic chemical a day to break up oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico despite a federal directive that the chemicals be used only rarely on surface waters, congressional investigators said Saturday after examining BP and government documents.

The documents show the Coast Guard approved 74 waivers over a 48-day period after the restrictions were imposed, resulting in hundreds of thousands of gallons of the chemicals to be spread on Gulf waters. Only in a small number of cases did the government scale back BP's request.

The extensive use of dispersants to break up oil gushing from BP's Deepwater Horizon raised concerns early on as to what long-term damage the toxic chemicals might be doing to the Gulf's aquatic life. That prompted the Environmental Protection Agency on May 26 to direct BP to stop using the chemicals on the water surface except in "rare cases."

But Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Saturday that the chemicals continued to be used extensively with Coast Guard approval, often at a rate of 6,000 to 10,000 gallons a day. A request was made and approved on June 13 to spread as much as 36,000 gallons of dispersant, according to data obtained by Markey's Energy and Environment subcommittee.

The EPA directive "has become more of a meaningless paperwork exercise than an attempt ... to eliminate surface application of chemical dispersants," Markey wrote in a letter sent Friday to retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the spill.

Markey seems to believe that an EPA order to BP has teeth, but under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the National Contingency Plan developed under that statute stipulate that the Federal On-Scene Coordinator is the federal official whose job it is coordinate and direct the response to the incident.  Furthermore, the Joint Incident Command is set up to loosely follow the National Incident Management System, or NIMS.  Under NIMS, a single federal official--the Incident Commander--is responsible for directing all activities until the incident is over.

You'll get no argument from me that the federal response was poorly organized and poorly executed.  Calling it "organized chaos" would be an insult to chaos organizers everywhere.  But as discombobulated as it was, nowhere in the NCP or NIMS is EPA given the power to circumvent or contradict the On Scene Coordinator/Incident Commander/Whatever.  EPA, like Fish & Wildlife and other federal agencies may be part of the team, but they take their orders from Allen, not vice versa.  Similarly, BP also takes orders from Allen, not EPA.

Markey is just grandstanding during an election year.  But you'd think he'd at least read the OPA and the Contingency Plan, right?

Wait...  Markey's a liberal Democrat.   Never mind...

Gimme some feedback in the comments.