2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 10 Sep 2003 14:21:25 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military

For immediate release:


Seattle, WA; San Francisco, CA; Richmond, VA; USA. 9 September 2003. The
Sierra Club and the Basel Action Network (an activist group working to
halt international toxic waste trade), have indicated their intent to
seek judicial relief in order to prevent the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) from endangering
the environment by permitting the towing of 13 obsolete, rusting old
naval vessels, currently floating as part of the "ghost fleet" in the
James River in Virginia, across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom. The
action sought would require the government to respect the letter of the
Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), which forbids the export of
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), toxic persistent organic chemical
compounds, that the ships are known to contain (along with considerable
volumes of hazardous asbestos and old fuel oil.

While the activists are strongly in support of removing the ships from
the James River and recycling them as soon and as safely as possible,
there is strong objection to the EPA deciding unilaterally to exercise
"enforcement discretion" to bend the law to allow the Maritime
Administration to export such vessels for dismantling abroad. They cite
provisions within TSCA which allow for exceptions via a rule-making
procedure which would allow public comment and due process -- an avenue
that was short-circuited by EPA's exercise of "enforcement discretion".
Of great concern to the activists besides the considerable risk of
accidental losses or spills posed by the towing of these decaying
fuel-laden vessels across the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of autumn, is
the precedent that would be set of bending TSCA by fiat rather than by
due process. This precedent could later be utilized in the same way to
send literally hundreds of obsolete decommissioned naval vessels from
the United States to  shipbreaking yards in Asia.

"We believe this export to UK is MARAD's way of testing the export
waters, and setting unfortunate legal precedents, while looking all the
while to export the bulk of these dirty ships to the infamous
shipbreaking yards in Asia, where workers have few rights and little
protection from asbestos and PCBs." said Basel Action Network (BAN)
coordinator Jim Puckett.

Already MARAD and EPA sent an entourage to China earlier this year but
the exploratory visit was cut short by the outbreak of the SARS virus.
In December 1997 the Baltimore Sun published a series of articles
highlighting the horrific conditions in the ship-scrapping yards of Asia
which led to the Clinton Administration adopting a moratorium on export
of US government ships in 1998. That moratorium stood for 5 years until
it was overturned late last year by Congress when they provided MARAD
with funds for a pilot project to explore export options.

Notably, the appropriations bill explicitly states that the pilot
program must be carried out "in accordance with applicable provisions of
law and regulations."

In their legal intent letter to EPA, the Sierra Club and BAN indicated
that they had information from Friends of the Earth in the UK that the
permission was granted before the recipient dismantling facility
(AbleUK) had even gotten the permission to build the necessary drydock
and such dock might not be approved as it impacts two specially
protected marine areas. Further, it was revealed that the United States
State Department had influenced the decision that prompted the UK to
allow the import by apparently telling them that the US lacked technical
capacity to dismantle the ships themselves and that unless the UK took
the ships they were likely to go to Asia. According to the activists
both of these allegations are false.

The letter calls on the EPA to revoke the May 22 "enforcement
discretion" until MARAD requests a proper waiver by rule pursuant to the
requirements of TSCA; and until EPA grants such waiver by rule based
upon a finding that no unreasonable risk of injury to health or
environment would result from such waiver. In undertaking such
rule-making, EPA should ensure, that all authorities for fulfilling the
contracts and conditions are in place and the authorities in the UK are
made aware that the United States possesses full capability of handling
these vessels domestically.

"We believe that if the public or even the EPA knew all of the facts of
this misguided toxic ship dumping plan, the deal would have been
scuttled a long time ago," said Aaron Isherwood, Sierra Club legal
council. "The export of these made-in-USA toxic waste ships to other
nations is reprehensible given the transport risks involved and the fact
that dozens of qualified and needy shipbreaking firms here at home can
do the recycling job, safely and responsibly."

For more information contact:
Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network (BAN), Coordinator: 1.206.652.5555,
cell 1.206.779.0363
Aaron Isherwood, Sierra Club Legal Staff, 1.415.977.5680  Michael Town,
Sierra Club, Virginia Chapter, Director: 1.804.225.9113

c/o Asia Pacific Environmental Exchange (APEX)
1305 Fourth Ave., Suite 606
Seattle, Washington 98101 USA
Phone: 1.206.652.5555, Fax: 1.206.652.5750
Email: jpuckett@ban.org
Website: http://www.ban.org

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