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OCTOBER 2, 2003
7:42 PM
CONTACT: Sierra Club 
Jim Puckett 206-652-5555
Michael Town 804-225-9113
Martin Wagner/Marcello Mollo 510-550-6700
Judge Grants Partial Restraining Order: 4 Toxic Ships to be Exported Despite British Warnings

WASHINGTON - October 2 - Judge Rosemary Collyer of the Washington, D.C. Federal District court partially granted a request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) brought by the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Sierra Club represented by Earthjustice. But the ruling will allow the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) to begin to immediately tow four of thirteen dilapidated and obsolete naval vessels contracted to be sent from the James River in Virginia to a scrap yard in Teesside, on the northeast coast of England. The first two ships contain over 68 tons of highly persistent and toxic PCBs as well as over 120 tons of cancer causing asbestos will likely sail as early as Friday. The decision puts a hold on the remaining 9 ships until after a second court hearing on October 20.

“Clearly the judge is concerned, but the Bush Administration is still being allowed to begin a needlessly risky venture that puts the health of the global environment and two coastal communities in serious jeopardy.” said Jim Puckett of BAN. “We have strong faith that despite this foolhardy launch of the first of these dilapidated toxic time bombs toward foreign shores, sanity will soon prevail and this misguided scheme will itself be scrapped.”

The decision was a surprise because, as reported by Reuters over the weekend, the UK Environment Agency has informed MARAD that allowing any of the U.S. "ghost fleet" to sail to Britain "before all required regulatory approvals are in place...may lead to the ships being repatriated to the United States." Indeed there is not even a dry-dock facility in place which is a requirement of the contract. According to Friends of the Earth UK, all of the planning permissions to build a seawall or bund to create a drydock basin have not been given and may never be given. If the permissions are not in place when the ships arrive in England, the ships might be sent back across the North Atlantic, a needless doubling of a highly risky venture, according to the environmental organizations BAN and Sierra Club.

The environmental groups filed the lawsuit and requested a temporary restraining order on the export of the vessels on September 26th, alleging among other things that the planned export is in violation of the PCB export prohibition found in the U.S. Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA). According to the law, an exemption from the export prohibition may be granted only through a proper rulemaking procedure involving public input, which in this case did not take place. According to the environmental groups the failure of the TRO is not a reflection of the success of the larger lawsuit and allegation.

“This round-one decision is by no means a definitive decision on the legality of the export,” said Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner. “Indeed we believe that the court must find that any exemption to the PCB export ban must only come through a proper public process.”

Judge Collyer’s decision comes at a moment when a new hurricane Kate has formed and is bearing westward toward the coast of the US.

“It is hard to understand the Bush Administration’s rationale for placing the global environment and sensitive ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay at needless risk, when we have companies right here in Virginia that can dismantle and recycle these ships safely," said Sierra Club’s Michael Town. “This is doubly puzzling when we now learn that an adequate dry-dock facility to recycle the vessels is not in place in England as is required.”

Read the decision online here:


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