GULF SPILL:

Markey demands answers about BP's continued dispersant use

A senior House Democrat today asked Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to release information supporting BP PLC's continued use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of a government directive that told the oil giant to curtail its use of the controversial chemicals.

In letters to Allen and Jackson, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) asked for the release of written justifications for the surface dispersant use that BP was asked to provide in a May 26 directive issued jointly by EPA and the Coast Guard. In the month since the government instructed BP to "eliminate" the surface use of dispersants save for "rare cases," the company has applied 272,000 gallons of Corexit 9500 to the spreading Gulf oil (Greenwire, June 24).

Markey, who chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the House Energy and Commerce Committee's environment panel, asked Allen a series of questions that began: "Why is BP continuing to use dispersants on the surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico?"

The May 26 directive allowed BP to continue spraying surface dispersant -- which has raised concerns about the safety of workers exposed to the product's potentially hazardous ingredients -- provided that other options for controlling the oil, such as skimming and burning, were proving ineffective. The Coast Guard is required to give written approval for such surface dispersant use, according to the directive.

The lawmaker's letter to Jackson delved into specifics of EPA's plan to independently test the efficacy of alternative dispersants to Corexit. EPA chose that course after BP declined to comply with a May 20 EPA-Coast Guard directive to abandon Corexit for an alternative dispersant with a lower toxicity and higher effectiveness rating (Greenwire, May 25).

EPA data show that several other dispersants approved under the government's national contingency plan for oil leaks are ranked as less toxic and more effective at breaking down Southern Louisiana crude (Greenwire, May 13).

"While I understand this type of scientific evaluation takes time to accomplish, I am writing to get an update on the progress" EPA has made in its evaluation of other dispersant products, Markey told Jackson.

Markey also cited uncertainty surrounding the volume of information that BP is publicly releasing about its work in the Gulf. Citing BP CEO Tony Hayward's testimony in the House last week that data are shared "as we make them, on a variety of websites," Markey asked Jackson to check up on BP's efforts at transparency.

"It is my understanding that EPA is publishing only a portion of the data submitted by BP," he wrote.

Click here to read Markey's letter to Jackson.

Click here to read Markey's letter to Allen.

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