Following a tip from the Basel Action Network (BAN), a global watchdog organization dedicated to halting exports of toxic waste from rich to low-income countries, the Environmental Protection Agency has moved to halt the export of the vessel USS Crescent City, (aka Golden Bear, aka Artship) from Mare Island at Vallejo, California, to China for scrapping. The ship most recently was owned by the non-profit organization Artship Foundation and was moored in the Port of Oakland.
The agency acted after BAN contacted legal defense organization Earthjustice of Oakland, California, which in turn notified the present owner, Emilio Sanchez of Brownsville, Texas, and EPA of intent to take legal action to halt the export should the government fail to act. Region IX EPA, based in San Francisco, then took action, conducting on-board sampling to see if the vessel contained toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which are illegal to export from the United States under the Toxics Substances Control Act. PCBs were found at very high levels in on-board materials.
"We are very satisfied that the Environmental Protection Agency in Region IX has acted with a sense of urgency and responsibility to uphold the law and prevent our country from passing its toxic burden to laborers and environments in other countries," said Marcello Mollo of Earthjustice. "Now we need to ensure that EPA shows similar responsibility with government-owned ships."
The action raises serious questions of a double standard whereby the EPA takes action against private owners but fails to halt the export of government vessels. While the former troop ship USS Crescent City is now privately owned, EPA has failed to take similar action to halt exports in the matter of the disposition of the entire government owned "ghost fleet" of about 150 rusting, dilapidated ex-naval vessels now moored in Suisun Bay, California, Beamont, Texas, and on the James River in Virginia known as the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF). The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) has jurisdiction over the NDRF and proposed to export the vessels for disposal.
Last year, EPA exercised "enforcement discretion" in an attempt to help MARAD export 13 NDRF vessels to the United Kingdom for scrapping despite their massive contamination with asbestos, PCBs, and old fuel oil.* It is also known that MARAD is looking to China with renewed interest despite an earlier Clinton administration moratorium on exporting government scrap vessels to Asia designed to protect workers and the environment there. This has been proposed despite the fact that MARAD has received numerous proposals to scrap ships domestically, including at Mare Island. BAN and Earthjustice hope that the Bush administration will locate a suitable ship-scrapping yard on the West Coast to properly decontaminate and recycle the NDRF vessels moored in Suisin Bay, California, as well as retired West Coast oil platforms.
"Against all morality and common sense, the Bush administration is all too willing to dump its toxic waste ships on our global neighbors. But we are hopeful that EPA’s recent action in California signals a new willingness to act responsibly while providing jobs at home," said Jim Puckett of BAN. "We should not be in the business of out-sourcing toxic waste or jobs that can be done more safely at home."
*The export attempt was seen by BAN as a dangerous precedent and a needlessly risky scheme, given that numerous domestic scrapping yards were willing to do the job in the United States. BAN and the Sierra Club, with legal counsel from Earthjustice, sought a restraining order and sued the government to halt the shipments. Four of the 13 ships were eventually exported while the judge halted nine ships pending further proceedings.