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Coast's oil-spill defenses called inadequate

A dozen environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, have called California's oil spill defenses inadequate and cited the need for a powerful tug capable of towing disabled oil tankers and possibly based at Bodega Bay.

"California is far behind the rest of the West Coast and the world in oil spill prevention, preparedness and response capability," the groups said in a letter to John Laird, head of the state Natural Resources Agency, and other officials.

North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Richard Charter, a veteran coastal advocate from Bodega Bay, endorsed the environmentalists' message, including a call to remove chemical dispersants as a primary spill-response tool.

Reliance on a dispersant called Corexit "is not acceptable," Huffman said, citing evidence that it is both ineffective and toxic.

"We have no tow truck," said Charter, a senior fellow with The Ocean Foundation, referring to the need for a 10,000-horsepower tug that could keep foundering oil tankers from crashing onto the North Coast's rocky shores.

"The best way to prevent damage from an oil spill is not to have one," said Charter, a longtime foe of offshore oil drilling.

Alaska and Washington operate tugs and other programs that apply "best available technology" to oil spill protection, a standard California fails to meet despite a legal requirement for it, the environmental groups said.

"The same fleet of tankers leaving Prince William Sound (Alaska) with a state-of-the-art tug escort and prevention and response system arrive in California without a similar safety net," they said.

More than 500 million barrels of oil are transported in California's waters each year, and vessels visiting the Port of Oakland carry millions of gallons of heavy bunker fuel, the groups said.

"Certainly Sonoma and the North Bay are at risk," said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, based in Point Reyes Station. "It's not if there's another spill, it's a matter of when."

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