Hearing Held Over S.F. Bay Oil Spill

A congressional hearing on the recent San Francisco Bay oil spill convened Monday in the city by the bay. KPCC's Julie Small reports that the lawmakers, most of them Californians, questioned whether existing national standards for preventing and responding to oil spills are adequate for the state.

Julie Small: The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation wanted to know how a predictable accident ended up being the worst oil spill in the San Francisco bay in decades.

The U.S. Coast Guard's Admiral Craig Bone said he was sure the problem lay with the crew of the tanker that sideswiped the Bay Bridge – not with national port standards, or the Coast Guard's efforts to uphold them. That's why after the hearing he cautioned against changing a system he says works.

Admiral Craig Bone: Thousands of ships have gone through this bridge for many, many years and never struck it. I don't know that we should have a knee jerk reaction and change everything because one ship did something.

Small: Panel members wondered if the coast guard had responded quickly enough and with enough people clean up equipment. But Admiral Bone said they couldn't have done any better.

Bone: On search and rescue case we average 30 minutes to begin and leave to get ready and on the scene – for a search and rescue case where someone's in the water. How are you going to get boom and all this other capacity and capability out and deployed quicker than that? I don't know. Unless you have it on the water, all the time, waiting for someone to make a mistake... This is a dilemma. It's not satisfactory, but I don't know that there's a better solution.

Small: Admiral Bone told the committee that the Coast Guard and other agencies had collected 19,000 gallons – nearly a third of the oil spilled. That's actually better than the national average. Most response teams are only able to collect 20% of oils spills.

Congresswoman Laura Richardson: And that's completely unacceptable to this congress.

Small: Democrat Laura Richardson's district includes Long Beach and Compton.

Richardson: Maybe for the Coast Guard it was sufficient. But that doesn't mean we exhausted every resource and every other potential agency that had expertise. Wildlife should have been involved in terms of coming in immediately in terms of, to get out wildlife we have there.

Small: Richardson said the committee got what it came for: Enough information to know that national standards aren't high enough to protect the state with the most people, the largest economy, and the most beautiful coastline in the nation.