Senate panel rejects bill requiring dispersants be considered last-resort option

04 24, 2013 by The Times-Picayune

Three years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, members of a Senate environmental panel rejected legislation that would have required solutions such as the dispersant Corexit to be considered a last-resort option in the event of oil spills.

Senate Bill 145 by A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, would have stipulated the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality must first consider the use of non-toxic solutions in the case of another disaster mirroring the 2010 BP oil spill.

Crowe told the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality the bill wouldn't ban the use of dispersants, such as Corexit, in the event of an oil spill, but rather would codify a process state environmental officials already use when mitigating a disaster.

"We're trying in a very fair and reasonable way to say, if there's a catastrophic event, as huge as the one that we experienced here a few years ago, we don't want to completely take off the table some drastic measure such as what we used then," Crowe said. "But we simply want to....provide for a more reasonable, responsible, safe mediation process."

After the spill, millions of gallons of Corexit were dumped into the gulf to break the oil up into tiny globules.

Watchdog groups have since reported numerous health problems stemming from the chemical, including blood in urine, heart palpitations, kidney and liver damage, migraines, memory loss and reduced IQ.

Other studies said while the chemical helped degrade the oil, the resulting mix of Corexit and oil was 52 times more toxic than the oil alone.

Crowe said while the chemical had been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, it had never been used in such large amounts or so far underwater.

Mike Lyons, an attorney with the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said the legislation essentially ties the hands of environmental disaster coordinators by limiting the tools in their toolbox.

"I'm here as an industry that needs every tool it can respond to emergency conditions. Dispersants are one of those tools," Lyons said.

Lyons said while Crowe had "good intentions," the bill gave preference to companies peddling nontoxic solutions. He also pointed to similar legislation Crowe tried to pass in 2011 that would have effectively banned the use of all dispersants.

"I don't think that's the precedent that we want to set," Lyons said.

Crowe's 2011 bill, which would have prohibited the use of dispersants unless they were classified as "practically non-toxic" and broke down into carbon dioxide and water, was passed by the Senate environmental quality committee but failed on the Senate floor.

Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Shreveport, said she had concerns about the use of the term "first" in the bill's language. An amendment to the bill said the state agency shall first consider alternatives to dispersants.

"Certainly I think that's already what DEQ is doing today," Buffington said. "I don't want to do anything that even gives you a moment of hesitancy about making a call that you feel is appropriate at that time."

The bill failed 2-1, with Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, and Buffington voting against the measure.

Crowe said after the meeting he was disappointed the rhetoric used by the oil and gas industry "confused" the legislators into thinking the bill was about company preference.

"We're trying to do something to encourage seek nontoxic solutions first, which is out there and abundantly available," Crowe said.