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BP Says “NO” to EPA on Switching Dispersants: Who’s in Charge?

We’re about to find out how this "BP is responsible for the spill and cleanup, but we’re responsible for oversight" concept works, because BP is apparently defying the Environmental Protection Agency’s order to find and use a different, less toxic and more effective dispersant.

From the continued excellent coverage by the Times Picayune:

BP has told the Environmental Protection Agency that it cannot find a safe, effective and available dispersant to use instead of Corexit, and will continue to use that chemical application to help break up the growing spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP was responding to an EPA directive Thursday that gave BP 24 hours to identify a less toxic alternative to Corexit — and 72 hours to start using it — or provide the Coast Guard and EPA with a "detailed description of the alternative dispersants investigated, and the reason they believe those products did not meet the required standards."

BP spokesman Scott Dean said Friday that BP had replied with a letter "that outlines our findings that none of the alternative products on the EPA’s National Contingency Plan Product Schedule list meets all three criteria specified in yesterday’s directive for availability, toxicity and effectiveness."

Dean noted that "Corexit is an EPA pre-approved, effective, low-toxicity dispersant that is readily available, and we continue to use it."

He did not directly address widely broadcast news reports that more than 100,000 gallons of an alternative dispersant chemical call Sea-Brat 4 was stockpiled near Houston and available for application.

As the article notes, there are reportedly quantities of alternative dispersants available in the region.

BP’s Dean statement suggests an attitude of open defiance. They’ve been ordered to stop using a dispersant and replace it, or explain why, but "we continue to use it." So who’s in charge here?

Either EPA needs to say, "we’ve examined the response and based on our own investigation we agree that alternatives meeting our criteria are not available and so authorize BP to continue using its dispersant" . . . or . . . EPA needs to say "we do not agree and BP shall immediately cease its use of the dispersant and comply with our order."

What EPA can’t say, or leave others to conclude, is "we continue to believe BP can and should be using an alternative, but we have to take their word and there’s nothing we can do about it."

The public is out of patience and they expect their government to be able to function in an emergency. It better be quick.

Update: Interesting comments from BP and EPA yesterday, reported by ABC:

Though Suttles said BP will continue to search for a better alternative, he said "right now we cannot identify another product that is available that’s better than [dispersant] Corexit."

EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy told ABC News today, "It’s not that Corexit is banned. It’s not that they have to stop using it because they’re using it right now. But it’s just that they need to switch over."

Oh. And there’s this:

Suttles said he had not seen any evidence of the toll the dispersant is taking on marine life, he admitted that using the chemicals involves "tradeoffs."

"I haven’t seen any evidence to show that," Suttles said today. "We’re doing extensive monitoring as is NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the EPA."

According to the NYT, NOAA has only four research ships to cover the Gulf, with another still returning from the Pacific, while all of the EPA’s monitoring is either near shorelines or for air contamination on shore, not effects on the deepwaters near the BP site. (see EPA website below).

Times Picayune, EPA demands BP use less toxic dispersant
Empytywheel, Congress gets results on Corexit, and see John Hall questions BP on greenwashing campaign
NYT/Greenwire, Less toxic dispersants lose out in BP oil spill cleanup
EPA website on dispersants and directives to BP
NYT, Scientists fault lack of studies over Gulf oil spill
Local media: Fisherman report illnesses from BP chemicals

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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