A national environmental group is threatening to sue over the federal government's oil spill emergency response plan for Alaska, saying regulators violated the law by not studying whether using chemicals to disperse oil spills would harm the state's endangered and threatened marine species.
The Center for Biological Diversity sent the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard a letter Wednesday saying it would sue in 60 days if the agencies do not correct the spill-response plan's alleged violations of the federal Endangered Species Act.
"We highlighted chemical dispersants because that has emerged as a (pollution) concern, but it's one concern among many with the response plan" in Alaska," said Rebecca Noblin, the center's Alaska director.
Dispersants are a collection of chemicals used to dilute and disperse oil spills, with the goal of keeping oil slicks from hitting sensitive coastlines. Dispersants were used during the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and remain highly controversial in Alaska. Many groups in Alaska, including the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, oppose the use of dispersants, claiming they aren't effective in the state's cold waters and might cause more harm to fish and wildlife.
In the letter to the EPA and Coast Guard on Wednesday, Noblin wrote that chemical dispersants and broken-down oil can be even more harmful to marine life than untreated oil, and the long-term impacts of the dispersants haven't been adequately tested.
"We're not saying you absolutely can't use dispersants; we're saying, 'Study it,' " Noblin said in an interview.
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