U.S. Coast Guard sued for failing to release public records of shipping incidents in the Salish Sea
Friends of the Earth files lawsuit on the eve of the 27th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Friends of the Earth sued the Coast Guard in federal court on Tuesday for failing to provide public records detailing shipping incidents in the Salish Sea.
The lawsuit asserts the Coast Guard failed to turn over documents in its possession that Friends of the Earth requested under the Freedom of Information Act and that detail shipping incidents from 2009 to 2014 in the U.S. and Canadian waters of the Salish Sea surrounding the San Juan Islands.
Friends of the Earth requested the records on May 1, 2015 after the Coast Guard presented a summary of the information at a public meeting of the Puget Sound Harbor Safety Committee. For more than 10 months, the Coast Guard has failed to disclose information requested pursuant to the FOIA, which requires federal agencies to determine whether to provide the requested information within 20 working days.
Documenting shipping incidents in the Salish Sea, including those that did not result in oil spills, is critical to understanding the risks posed to this rich but vulnerable waterway. The need for data on these incidents, whether they occurred in Canadian or U.S. waters, is particularly timely due to mounting pressure to export significantly more oil from the region. The U.S. Congress recently lifted the ban on the export of domestically extracted crude oil. In Canada, Kinder Morgan has been pressuring the Canadian government to allow it to increase the capacity of its Trans Mountain Pipeline to 890,000 barrels per day. This pipeline expansion effort is equivalent to the now-defunct Keystone XL pipeline. This expansion of a pipeline that already connects the vast tar sand oil fields in Alberta to a marine terminal near Vancouver, BC, would result in a 7-fold increase in the number of tankers traveling through the already traffic laden Salish Sea—from approximately one tanker a week to one a day. The route taken by these tankers overlaps with the core area of critical habitat designated for the endangered southern resident orca community.
“The 27th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill that left its indelible mark on Prince William Sound, including the devastation of two orca pods, serves as an important reminder that if we don’t learn from our mistakes we’re bound to relive them,” said Fred Felleman, Northwest Consultant for Friends of the Earth and Seattle Port Commissioner. “For 35 years the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards have successfully managed vessel traffic in our shared waterway – why is the public being kept in the dark about the numerous shipping incidents that didn’t make the news because they didn’t result in oil spills? There is an immediate need for these data to inform a state-of-the-art vessel traffic risk assessment currently underway. Without these data we are very likely to underestimate oil spill risk to the region” concluded Felleman.
“The U.S. Coast Guard should not make the public wait for months and months to release documents in its possession. These documents are highly relevant to the current state of shipping in the Northwest region and the Coast Guard should have released them to Friends of the Earth months ago rather than delay and refuse to even respond to our simple request for information.”
Friends of the Earth is represented by Kampmeier & Knutsen of Seattle, WA and Bahr Law Offices of Eugene, OR.
Background: A copy of the lawsuit filed by Friends of the Earth can be downloaded here.
More information on the VTRA can be found here:
Canada/United States Co-cooperative Vessel Traffic System Agreement
In 1979 by formal agreement, the Canadian and the United States Coast Guards established the Co-operative Vessel Traffic System (CVTS) for the Strait of Juan de Fuca region. The purpose of the CVTS is to provide for the safe and efficient movement of vessel traffic while minimizing the risk of pollution by preventing collisions and groundings and the environmental damage that would follow. As part of the Agreement, Prince Rupert Traffic provides VTS for the offshore approaches to the Juan de Fuca Strait and along the Washington State coastline from 48 degrees north. Seattle Traffic provides VTS for both the Canadian and U.S. waters of Juan de Fuca Strait and Victoria Traffic provides VTS for both Canadian and U.S. waters of Haro Strait, Boundary Passage, and the lower Georgia Straits. (Emphasis added). http://www.uscg.mil/d13/cvts/purposeandobjective.asp.
Communications contact: Kate Colwell, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0744, [email protected]