Legal Action Prompts Feds to Analyze Risks to Northwest’s Endangered Species During Oil Spill Cleanups

PORTLAND, Ore.—(ENEWSPF)–November 18, 2014.  In response to a notice of intent to sue from the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency will analyze the risks that oil-spill cleanup and containment actions pose to salmon, whales, sturgeon and other endangered species in the Pacific Northwest. The analysis is needed because of the massive increase in transport of oil by rail and barge throughout the region and on the Columbia River and Puget Sound.   

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Services to ensure actions they fund, permit or carry out do not jeopardize endangered species. In response to the notice, the Coast Guard and EPA have now initiated this process for the Northwest Area Contingency Plan, which guides how the agencies respond to oil spills. The agencies have begun by developing a list of protected species in areas where response tactics such as booming, in-situ burning and use of chemical dispersants may pose a threat to endangered species or their critical habitat.

“With little consideration of safety, there has been a massive increase in transport of highly volatile crude oil along our most precious waterways in the Pacific Northwest,” said Jared Margolis, a staff attorney at the Center. “Analyzing how we can respond to a spill without threatening the health of endangered species is just the tip of the iceberg for what needs to be done. But we’re glad that the Coast Guard and EPA are finally taking this critical step to protect our communities and wildlife from the unchecked threat of crude oil transport.”

Oil spill response actions have the potential to cause undue harm to species and habitats through the use of toxic dispersants and oil recovery methods, such as dredging, that can harm essential habitat for protected species like sturgeon and salmon. The conservation groups argued that an analysis of these impacts is urgently needed given the dramatic rise in the oil trains and a rash of fiery derailments and spills.

“This is an important first step for ensuring that the increased traffic of dangerous oil trains through the Columbia River Gorge will not result in undue harm to protected species,” said Michael Lang, Friends’ conservation director. “Ultimately, oil trains don’t belong in the Gorge, and we are pleased to see that the agencies will undertake an analysis of the threats and specific means for avoiding impacts to fish and wildlife habitat from spills.” 

“Bomb trains are just one of many dangers posed by our continued dependence on fossil fuels,” Margolis said. “Ultimately, if we’re going to avoid dangerous spills in the Columbia River, Puget Sound and other waters, as well as avoid the climate catastrophe that is currently being caused by our emissions, we must move away from these dangerous fossil fuels.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge is a conservation organization with approximately 5,000 members dedicated to protecting the scenic beauty and natural heritage of the Columbia River Gorge.