Emergency Response to Oil Spills and Hazardous Substances Releases

Oil spills and hazardous substances releases pose a threat to human health and safety and frequently result in significant impacts to natural and cultural resources.  The Federal Government has the responsibility to respond to oil spills and hazardous substances releases pursuant to the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), and the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (National Contingency Plan or NCP).

DOI’s Roles in Emergency Response to Oil Spill and Hazardous Substances Releases

DOI’s roles in emergency response to oil spills and hazardous substance releases, including the roles of the DOI bureaus, are specifically listed by regulation in the National Contingency Plan (NCP).  DOI has the following roles and responsibilities in oil spill and hazardous substance release response:

  • At the National level, The Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance (OEPC) provides leadership, direction, guidance, and coordinated policy development across the Department.  OEPC, through the Regional Environmental Officers (REOs), receives initial notification of oil discharges and hazardous substance releases from the USCG or the EPA.  OEPC provides appropriate bureaus/offices within DOI with notification of discharges and releases and provides reports to the Interior Operations Center for situational awareness.
  • Scientists and technical experts from DOI provide expertise and advice to support the response and help to carry out operational decisions that will protect sensitive natural, recreational, and cultural areas and resources; mitigate collateral harm; and facilitate environmental recovery.  This may include overseeing wildlife rescue and rehabilitation operations and permitting requirements.  OEPC ensures requests for DOI expertise or assistance reach the appropriate bureau(s)/office(s) and coordinates the reimbursement to DOI for any assistance provided through a Pollution Removal Funding Authorization (PRFA). 
  • OEPC staff serve on the National Response Team (NRT), the Federal interagency coordinating body established under the NCP that provides technical assistance, resources, and coordination on preparedness, planning, response and recovery activities for emergencies involving oil, hazardous substances, and pollutants and contaminants in natural and technological disasters and other environmental incidents of national significance.
  • OEPC staff also serve on the Regional Response Teams (RRTs) established under the NCP.  DOI RRT members support preparedness and response activities by providing advice and access to DOI bureau/office resources and by representing the policies of the DOI.  Based on input from appropriate DOI bureaus and offices, the RRT provides formal concurrence for DOI on the use of different spill countermeasures.  RRTs are ultimately responsible for ensuring coordinated spill response actions, including DOI participation in a response.
  • DOI staff act as the First Federal Official on spills on DOI-managed lands.  If a spill or release affects land under DOI jurisdiction, the land manager may serve as the First Federal Official until the Incident Commander is appointed, as a member of the Unified Command, and/or in appropriate sections of the Incident Command System organization.

Oil and Hazardous Substances Resources

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