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Statement by the President Announcing Approval of a National Contingency Plan for Combating Oil Spills.

November 13, 1968

I HAVE today approved a plan to reduce damage from the 2,000 or more spills of oil and other hazardous materials that occur each year in this country and along its shores.

The sinking of the Torrey Canyon off the coast of England last year and the Ocean Eagle off Puerto Rico a few months ago were dramatic and tragic examples of the widespread damage that can be caused by the sudden release of large quantities of oil into the environment.

There is no way to predict when or where the next spill of oil or other hazardous materials will occur. There is no way to assess the damage to beaches, to waterfowl, to fish and other wildlife caused by these spills.

We have many of the resources and much of the technical capacity to deal effectively with oil spills, but until now there has never been a carefully worked out plan to make the best use of available equipment and skilled manpower. When the new plan is fully operational, we will be better prepared to act more promptly and effectively against this major environmental hazard. Overall policy direction in carrying out the provisions of the plan will be provided by the National Inter-Agency Committee for Control of Pollution by Oil and Hazardous Materials. This Committee is composed of representatives of the Departments of the Interior, Transportation, Defense, and Health, Education, and Welfare, and the Office of Emergency Preparedness. The Department of the Interior representative is its Chairman. The national contingency plan will:

--make it possible to mobilize needed equipment and manpower and have them on the scene of an emergency in the least possible time,

--establish operations teams at the national and regional levels,

--make the best use of available Federal resources whenever an emergency requires Federal action,

--serve as a model for the development of State, municipal, and industrial plans,

--make the necessary equipment and manpower immediately available under clear lines of authority when an emergency develops.

While the national contingency plan will go far in improving our capability to make effective use of available resources after a spill has occurred, we urgently need to strengthen the Government's authority to clean up these spills, to set reasonable regulations to prevent them, and to require polluters to bear the cost of the damage they cause.

In my message to the Congress of March 8, 1968, I recommended the enactment of a new law to meet these needs. Although both Houses passed oil pollution legislation, it was not possible to obtain enactment in this session. This must be a high priority item for the next Congress.

Note: For the President's message to Congress of March 8, 1968, on conservation, see Item 122. See also Items 123, 297.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Statement by the President Announcing Approval of a National Contingency Plan for Combating Oil Spills. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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