Washington, DC--Citing "potential terrorist threats," the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is refusing to let Washington State environmental inspectors investigate oil spills in hydroelectric facilities on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
According to reports from Corps staff, oil is routinely discharged into the sumps and drainage vaults within the dams, often while these holding areas are full of migrating fish. The size of these spills ranges from a few gallons to hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of gallons of heavy machine grade oil. It is not known how much of this oil is eventually discharged into the river channels as a result of problems with the facilities' oil-water separators and the lack of consistent spill reporting by the Corps.
In a January 31, 2003 letter, the Washington Department of Ecology warned that the Corps "could be violating state and federal water quality laws and operating outside the legally mandated spill response system." In a March 31, 2003 reply to Ecology Director Tom Fitzsimmons, Brigadier General David Fastabend, the chief of Corps operations in the Pacific Northwest, challenged state jurisdiction over the operations of his agency's facilities. In addition, General Fastabend argued that "national security concerns" precluded state inspections:
"For yet another reason, we are also unable to allow your Department to assert regulatory controls over the internal operation of our facilities. Portland District has correctly advised you that drawings and plans of our galleries, sumps, and location of our generators in the powerhouse cannot be shared with your Department because of heightened national security concerns. These facilities have been identified as potential terrorist targets. Accordingly, the Army has mandated that plans, specifications, and drawings of the Federal projects cannot be provided to other entities or members of the public at this time."
"Arrogance thy name is the Army Corps of Engineers," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents Corps whistleblowers. "The notion that state pollution inspections compromise the war against terrorism manages to be both bizarre and self-serving--the Corps is supposed to be an environmental compliance organization not an environmental avoidance operation."