Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jackson, Salazar & Sutley Appear Before Senate EP&W

Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works

Testimony on Federal Response to the Recent Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Statement of Lisa P. Jackson Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency



For weeks, EPA responders have been monitoring air pollutants including, particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide, and total volatile organic compounds – or VOCs – from the oil in the Gulf, as well as the controlled burning of oil. These pollutants could pose a health risk to local communities and this monitoring is essential to ensure that communities are protected as BP takes direct response actions. EPA is also monitoring water quality by conducting surface water testing along the Gulf Coast, both in areas that have been impacted and those not yet affected. All of this information is being made public as quickly as we can compile it. We have been posting regular updates to our webpage, which has been a critical resource since the beginning of this event.

A primary concern is to ensure the safe application of chemical dispersants. Oil spill dispersants are chemicals applied to the spilled oil to break down the oil into small drops below on the surface. The dispersed oil mixes into the water column and is rapidly diluted. Bacteria and other microscopic organisms then act to degrade the oil within the droplets. However, in the use of dispersants we are faced with environmental trade-offs. We know that surface use of dispersants decreases the environmental risks to shorelines and organisms at the surface. And we know that dispersants breakdown over weeks rather than remaining for several years as untreated oil might. But, we are also deeply concerned about the things we don’t know. The long term effects on aquatic life are still unknown and we must make sure that the dispersants that are used are as non-toxic as possible. We are working with manufacturers, with BP and with others, to get less toxic dispersants to the response site as quickly as possible.

EPA has previously authorized use of several dispersing chemicals under the National Contingency Plan. In order to be placed on this list, each dispersing chemical must undergo a toxicity and effectiveness test. On Friday, EPA and the On Scene Coordinator authorized the application of dispersant underwater, at the source of the leak. The goal of this novel approach is to break up and degrade the oil before it reaches the water’s surface, and comes closer to our shorelines, our estuaries and our nurseries. Based on our testing, this can be done by using less dispersant than is necessary on the surface. But let me be clear that EPA reserves the right to halt the usage of sub-surface dispersant if we conclude that at any time; the impact to the environment outweighs the benefit of dispersing oil. As with our other monitoring initiatives, EPA and the Coast Guard have instituted a publicly available monitoring plan for sub-surface dispersant application to understand the impacts to the environment. This data will come to EPA once a day and if the levels in the samples are elevated, EPA will re-consider the authorization of use of dispersants.




Let me be very clear: BP is responsible, along with others, for ensuring that –

• the flow of oil from the source is stopped;
• the spread of oil in the Gulf is contained;
• the ecological values and near shore areas of the Gulf are protected;
• any oil coming onshore is cleaned up;
• all damages to the environment are assessed and remedied; and
• people, businesses, and governments are compensated for losses.

I also deployed to Houston Dr. Marcia McNutt, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, who is one of the nation’s most preeminent marine geophysicists, to provide oversight and to monitor the effectiveness of the BP command center’s activities. Dr. McNutt and the personnel assigned to the Houston Command Center by Secretary Chu, along with the Commanders of the U.S. Coast Guard, are there to ensure that no stone is left unturned as we search for solutions to the problem.

I established a new Outer Continental Shelf Safety Oversight Board within the Department. Composed of top Departmental officials, it will strengthen safety and improve overall management, regulation, and oversight of operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). It will also help us evaluate the broader questions that this spill raises about those activities.

Under MMS’s management, the OCS currently provides 31 percent of the Nation’s domestic oil production and almost 11 percent of its domestic natural gas production. The MMS is one of the largest collectors of non-tax and non-trust revenue for the Treasury, and has collected an average of more than $13 billion annually for the past 5 years. An agency with responsibilities of this magnitude should be governed by thoughtfully considered organic legislation.


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