Council applauds decision to keep public engagement tool for spill response in Alaska

Recent council concerns about a proposed change to Alaska’s spill response plan have been alleviated for now. However, the council is following a new proposal that also has the potential to affect stakeholder input. In a letter to the council on September 1, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, or ADEC, announced that its proposal to change the Regional Stakeholder Committee had been withdrawn. The Regional Stakeholder Committee is a vital tool for public involvement during oil spills, and has been effective for communication during spill drills and exercises in Prince William Sound for over a decade. Early in 2016, the Alaska Regional Response Team, or ARRT, a group made up of 15 different federal and state agencies that share responsibilities for managing oil and chemical spill responses in Alaska, proposed changes that could have reduced the council’s, and the public’s, access to important information about a spill. The change would also have reduced citizens’ input to spill response leaders. Involving citizens was recognized by Congress and Alaskans as an important aspect in oil-spill laws and regulations that were overhauled after the Exxon spill. During the public comment period that followed, the council and several local communities and organizations supported keeping the committee as it was, rather than splitting stakeholders into two groups. One of the new groups, which would have included the council, would have received far less information and access to decision-makers than the other. ADEC stated that the workgroup that put the proposal forward met on August 31, at which time a determination was made to withdraw the proposal. … Continue reading

New plan for using dispersants in Alaska is in effect

The Alaska Regional Response Team, or ARRT, established a new plan earlier this year for how oil spill dispersants, an alternative oil spill response option, would be used during an oil spill. The ARRT is a group of federal and state agencies that share responsibilities for managing oil and chemical spill responses in Alaska. Mechanical response, such as booms and skimmers that actually remove oil from the water, is the priority response option by state and federal law. The new plan was effective January 27, 2016, although parts of the plan will not go into effect until 2018. Details of new plan The new plan describes two different processes for dispersant use. Dispersants will be “preauthorized” in certain areas, and all other areas are “undesignated.” A new “preauthorization area” will go into effect in 2018. This area extends from 24 nautical miles offshore out to 200 nautical miles offshore (approximately 27.6 to 230 miles), south of Alaska’s mainland through the Aleutian chain. The ARRT’s rationale is that preauthorizing, or deciding before an oil spill occurs where chemical dispersants are allowed, could speed up response time. In the preauthorized area, dispersants are considered to be approved by government agencies before an oil spill happens. Therefore, the U.S. Coast Guard, as federal on scene coordinator, can decide to apply dispersants to a crude oil spill. Areas farther than 200 nautical miles from shore are international waters, and are not part of this plan. … Continue reading

From the Executive Director: Proposed amendment to Alaska’s Response Plan would reduce citizen involvement in spills like Exxon Valdez

The federal and state group that plans oil-spill response and cleanup in Alaska waters has proposed changes that would dismantle a vital tool for public involvement in that process. The group in question is the Alaska Regional Response Team. This group is made up of 15 different federal and state agencies, and is chaired by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Department of Environmental Conservation is the primary representative for the State of Alaska. Changing it as proposed would weaken, not strengthen, oil-spill response in Alaska waters. It’s a bad idea and we urge the Response Team to withdraw the proposal and rework it as needed with help from this citizens organization and other concerned stakeholders. The tool the Response Team wants to dismantle is the Regional Stakeholder Committee. It includes our group and many others with much to lose if Alaskans should suffer another spill on the scale of the Exxon Valdez. The proposed change would replace the Stakeholder Committee with two smaller, weaker groups that would be far less effective, possibly to the point of near-irrelevance. … Continue reading

Opportunity for public comment: Changes proposed to process for public input on oil spills

The Alaska Regional Response Team, made up of state and federal agencies, recently proposed changes to the Alaska Federal/State Preparedness Plan for Response to Oil & Hazardous Substance Discharges/Releases, also known as the “Unified Plan,” which guides oil spill cleanup in Alaska. These changes would replace the Regional Stakeholder Committee, or RSC, the forum that has been used since the Exxon Valdez oil spill to communicate with those stakeholders affected by an incident such as an oil spill. … Continue reading