Conservation groups claimed success today in a case regarding the export of highly contaminated obsolete navy vessels, despite yesterday’s dismissal of the case by a federal court on technical grounds. The Bush administration has proposed transporting the vessels, currently part of the James River, Virginia “ghost fleet,” across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom, raising concerns about health, safety, and international environmental justice when the vessels are moved.
“The Bush administration’s decision to move these toxic ships was reckless,” said Aaron Isherwood, an attorney for the Sierra Club, which was one of the plaintiffs along with the Basel Action Network. “Just bringing this case to court brought the time and scrutiny needed to reduce safety risks at home and abroad.”
The groups point out that as a result of the lawsuit:
- The US Maritime Administration (MARAD) has not exported nine vessels to an ill-equipped and unlicensed scrap yard in England;
- MARAD carried out a public environmental assessment to examine some of the environmental and health hazards posed by its export proposal;
- MARAD has applied to EPA for a public rule-making to determine whether its proposed export is prohibited by the long-standing Federal prohibition on PCB exports – a process that is ongoing; and
- MARAD has represented in public documents and to the court that it will not export any vessels unless the UK government licenses the scrap yard and consents to the hazardous waste imports.
“We may have lost this round on technical grounds,” said Martin Wagner of Earthjustice, “but along the way we have forced MARAD to comply with all applicable US and international standards governing hazardous waste exports. This is a genuine victory for concerned citizens in both countries.”
“The case has helped to raise awareness that there is significant capacity for ship scrapping here in the United States and it is just plain irresponsible to outsource jobs or toxic waste,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network.
The conservation groups strongly support the removal of the ships from the James River and other locations for recycling as soon and as safely as possible. In addition to the immediate safety problems posed by MARAD’s poor planning for the “ghost fleet,” the groups also expressed concerns about the overall likelihood that MARAD will consider resuming the dangerous exports and dumping of asbestos and PCB laden vessels to the shipbreaking yards of Asia.
“We still have major concerns about the Bush administration’s growing role in the toxic waste trade,” added Sierra Club’s Isherwood. “If we are serious about building trust around the world, America needs to demonstrate a clearer commitment to public safety and environmental justice beyond its borders.”