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Oil-Spill Expert Speaks Up For State’s Prevention Agency

An oil spill expert in Alaska said Thursday that Washington’s fledgling oil-spill prevention agency represents a good and prudent strategy to guard against tanker spills.

Ernest Piper, an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation official, commented by telephone from Anchorage as foes and backers here clashed over a Washington House measure to abolish the 3-yearold Marine Safety Office. The office would be folded into the state Department of Ecology at a savings of about $200,000 in the next two-year budget.

Without the highly visible office, existing programs to prevent spills among the scores of oil tankers plying Washington state waters likely will be eroded over time, if Alaska’s history can be a guide, Piper said. He helped direct the cleanup after the nation’s worst oil spill in 1989 by the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound.

“What we learned from the Exxon Valdez spill was that prevention is the most important part of a pollution program,” Piper said.

But prevention has to be visible and independent because it is so hard to quantify, and gets “diminished and forgotten” when made part of a bigger program, he said.

His comments came as House Transportation Chairwoman Karen Schmidt, R-Bainbridge Island, defended anew her measure to abolish the marine safety agency. The bill is headed for a House floor vote. Its prospects in the Senate are uncertain.

Schmidt accused foes of “a blatant misinformation campaign intended to mislead the public” about the bill.

“This bill is being terribly misrepresented by the administration of Office of Marine Safety because they are trying to preserve their jobs,” she said, referring to agency administrator Barbara Herman and her deputy, Nick Handy.



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