Environmental groups sue DEC over spill protection

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Four environmental organizations have sued the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, alleging permits are being illegally granted to the oil industry based on inadequate assumptions about oil spills.

The groups say those assumptions were adopted without public input.

''DEC is putting Alaska's environment at risk by failing to follow their own laws,'' said Walt Parker of the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. ''If the oil industry is allowed to rely on faulty assumptions to prevent and clean up oil spills, they will not be ready when a real problem arises in the field.''

The DEC says it never concluded there were flaws in the assumptions and that it only relies on them when they prove applicable and that public comment on specific oil permits is readily available.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Anchorage by the Forum, Fairbanks-based Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Cook Inlet Keeper and the Sierra Club.

The suit asks that the court rule the DEC has acted illegally on several grounds, most of them relating to a document drafted by a consortium of oil companies and government agencies.

Between 1997 and 1999 a group of representatives of the DEC, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies as well as the North Slope Borough, Alyeska, Arco and BP drafted a set of 25 assumptions to be used in the development of oil spill response plans, formalizing them in a 1999 document.

The assumptions cover such elements of a spill as how long it will last, the oil slick size, wind duration and direction and the rate of oil recovery.

The lawsuit contends that under Alaska law those assumptions qualify as de facto regulations, making them illegal, in part, because there was no public notice or opportunity for public comment before their adoption.

''DEC met behind closed doors with agencies and industry,'' said Deb Moore of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

Larry Dietrick, director of the DEC's Division of Spill Prevention and Response, counters that the assumptions are merely loose guidelines and that using them is within the DEC's authority.

''We think we're exercising our reasonable discretion under the regulations,'' he said. ''You can't codify everything you do.''

He also noted that public input is available every time an oil drilling permit is up for renewal or the granting of a new one is considered.

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