Oil Companies Seek to Weaken Limits on Oil Spills into America's Waters

Environmentalists in court to support rules protecting rivers, streams, wetlands from pollution


David Baron, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

Environmentalists appeared in court today to fight industry attacks on Clean Water Act protections for streams, lakes, rivers and wetlands. Oil companies challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s oil spill prevention program are seeking to overturn safeguards against damaging oil spills for many of the nation’s streams, creeks and wetlands.

“This is a broad and baseless attack by the oil industry on protection of the nation’s waters from destructive oil spills,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “These rules provide vital safeguards required by the Clean Water Act for rivers, streams and lakes.”

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club, intervened to oppose litigation brought against the EPA by the American Petroleum Institute and Marathon Oil. The oil industry challenged the EPA’s July 2002 revisions to the spill prevention rules for large oil storage and handling facilities. The program is designed to prevent discharges of oil into U.S. waters, and to contain those discharges if they occur. The oil industry argues that it should only have to take steps to prevent oil spills into a limited class of waters, an approach that would leave many rivers, streams, creeks, and lakes unprotected.

“It’s sad that it’s 2008, and we are arguing about whether the Clean Water Act can protect certain kinds of water bodies from oil pollution,” said Jon Devine, attorney with the Clean Water Project at NRDC. “We’re in this case to ensure that the law and common sense prevail, and that these waterways have the same safeguards that bigger waterbodies do.”

During Congressional testimony in 2000, the EPA estimated that “[o]n average, one spill of greater than 100,000 gallons occurs every month from oil storage facilities and the entire transportation network.” The agency estimates that approximately 24,000 oil spills occur each year across the country, nearly 70 oil spills on average each day.

“If the oil companies get their way, it would threaten three decades of progress in cleaning up our waters,” said Ed Hopkins, Director of Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program. “They need to be held responsible for their oil pollution.”

The oil companies’ lawsuit is one of a number of recent efforts by  industrial and development interests to sharply limit the scope of Clean Water Act protection. These challenges threaten safeguards for many of the nation’s waters.

“The oil industry is truly off base in attacking rules that are vital to preventing our rivers from running black with oil,” said Joan Mulhern, Senior Legislative Counsel with Earthjustice. “This industry, which routinely turns out record-breaking profits each year, seems intent on undermining the Clean Water Act and the protections Congress guaranteed under this law.” 

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