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Oil Spill Response Management

As the federal government's lead agency in responding to oil spills in inland waters, EPA is responsible for monitoring and, if necessary, directing spill response efforts. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, EPA is required to direct the response in cases where the spill "is of such a size or character as to pose a substantial threat to the public health or welfare." EPA may also take the lead in managing the response if requested to do so by state or local response officials, or if EPA determines that the responsible party is incapable of responding adequately to the spill.

The On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) is the federal official responsible for monitoring or managing federal responses to oil spills. If the spill affects inland waters, then an EPA OSC will be designated for the incident; a USCG OSC will be designated for spills to coastal waters and the great lakes. Once notified of an oil spill, the OSC also will conduct an immediate assessment to evaluate several factors, including the size and nature of the spill, the type of oil spilled, its potential hazards, and the resources needed to contain and clean it up. The OSC also will monitor any existing response efforts to determine whether additional technical support or federal involvement is necessary.

If the OSC determines that federal involvement is needed, the OSC will assume control of all spill response operations at the site and will obtain and direct all needed resources, such as cleanup personnel and equipment. If the OSC determines that the personnel and equipment already deployed at the spill site are inadequate, the OSC will employ spill contractors using available federal response funds or, if necessary, funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

For oil spills that require a greater scope of federal support and resources, the OSC may activate the Regional Response Team to provide broader technical advice, equipment, or manpower to assist with a response. In addition, the OSC can request support from EPA's Environmental Response Team Exit EPA , which is available 24 hours-a-day to provide oil spill expertise and special response equipment to the spill responders. The OSC also can access various National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Scientific Support Coordinators with expertise in different aspects of oil spills, as well as support from non-governmental organizations that specialize in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.

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