Magnuson’s legacy is intact


Wednesday, June 28, 2006


On May 30, 5 1/2 years after successfully challenging the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit allowing construction of a new oil tanker dock at BP’s Cherry Point refinery, Ocean Advocates et al., BP and the Corps signed a settlement that was approved by U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik.

No sooner was I breathing a long-awaited sigh of relief before my phone started to ring with calls from concerned citizens and elected officials alike, inquiring how we could have “settled,” implying we did not uphold the late Sen. Warren Magnuson’s legacy of protecting Washington waters from oil spills (“Ending of BP lawsuit cheered,” P-I, May 19). They could not have been more wrong; here’s why.

In a 1977 Senate speech, Magnuson said: “The waters of Puget Sound, and the attendant resources, are indeed a major national environmental treasure. Puget Sound ought to be strictly protected; its resources ought not to be threatened. Since tanker accidents are directly related to the amount of tanker traffic, there should not be an expansion of traffic over what now presently exists.”

Congress listened to Magnuson, amending the Marine Mammal Protection Act by prohibiting federal permits that would expand refinery dock capacities to handle crude oil beyond that required for Washington state needs. His amendment stopped a proposed supertanker port at Cherry Point and pipeline to Rocky Mountain markets.

However, in the intervening years, federal agencies failed to enforce the law, resulting in state refineries producing twice as much oil products as we consume. This failure has increased our risk and was successfully challenged in 2005 when the Corps and BP lost our lawsuit challenging the refinery dock construction near Bellingham without preparing an environmental impact statement or considering the amendment’s implications.

This is particularly important now that the National Marine Fisheries Service has found that oil spills pose a significant threat of extinction to our endangered orcas and have proposed the waters surrounding the dock as critical habitat for their recovery.

Big oil has previously asserted their investment in new tankers addresses the problem. However, oil is arriving increasingly on foreign vessels and far more is still done to prevent and respond to oil spills in Prince William Sound than in Washington waters, where refinery expansion plans abound amidst increasing freight traffic.

Our settlement does not affect the court’s ruling, only what BP is obligated to do during the time it takes the Corps to complete the EIS and issue a Magnuson-compliant permit. Not knowing what the court might grant us after another costly hearing, we waived our claim to temporarily restrict the number of tankers coming to the dock in exchange for substantial oil spill protections, including placement of booms around tankers before they transfer oil, the purchase of additional skimmers, designated anchorages for oil barges, avoidance of the narrowest tanker passage with additional safeguards required if they use it, and a $1 million state of the art vessel traffic study to be incorporated into the Army Corps’ EIS and future regulatory reviews.

As a result of this settlement, BP’s claims to Congress that environmentalists are causing them to cut back on their production when supplies are tight should be muted, and meaningful safeguards are put in place beyond state or federal requirements.

Our settlement assures that the Corps’ EIS will thoroughly address oil spill risks but it does not limit our right to challenge its overall adequacy or their interpretation of Magnuson’s restrictions on the new dock.

Following the court’s direction, the Corps may conclude some future restrictions will be needed on the use of the new dock. Any such suggestion will likely renew BP’s efforts to amend Magnuson as they have tried twice before. Rather than closed door lobbying efforts, an open discussion is required to address the measures needed in response to the risk from previous refinery dock expansions before more are sought. Alternatively, BP is considering piping the most greenhouse-gas-intensive oil derived from Alberta tar sands to avoid Magnuson’s potential dock restrictions, making a mockery of their global warming PR campaign.

We appreciate Congress’ continued defense of Magnuson so that the tradeoffs as to where our oil comes from, how it is transported and whether Oregon needs to build its own refinery can be discussed. By instituting new safety measures and raising these issues, our lawsuit upholds Magnuson’s historic oil spill prevention legacy while leading the way for new efforts.

Fred Felleman of Seattle ( is Northwest director of Ocean Advocates, which filed the lawsuit over BP’s expansion of the Cherry Point refinery dock, along with ReSources, North Cascades Audubon and Bellingham commercial fisherman Dan Crawford.

© 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

~ by fredfelleman on June 28, 2006.

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