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Oil Spills In Wildlife Refuge After Republicans Dismiss Need For New Regulation

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WASHINGTON -- Two weeks after Republican lawmakers dismissed the need for new rules on drilling in national wildlife refuges, federal agencies are cleaning up a crude oil spill in a Louisiana refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday that an estimated 50 barrels of oil spilled in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, affecting 10 acres of freshwater marsh. The Times-Picayune reported that officials first identified the spill on May 28 and are now working to clean it up.

According to the newspaper, the agencies said that the Texas Petroleum Investment Company was responsible for the incident and that the cause was a leaking pipeline under the surface of the marsh. They planned to start a controlled burn to help along the cleanup process.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering how to update its regulations for oil and gas development on lands and in waters that are part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The agency has said revisions are necessary because its rules have not changed in five decades and because old wells and storage tanks are leaking.

During a May 20 hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, a number of House Republicans decried the potential increase in regulations.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) asked Steve Guertin, Fish and Wildlife's deputy director, to identify who came up with this "hare-brained idea." The congressman questioned whether the agency was kowtowing to environmental advocates.

"Are you going to listen and give credit to those that live there and were guaranteed by Congress the right to develop their resources for their social and economic mobility, or are you going to listen to a bunch of jackasses from societies that don't even live there?" Young asked.

Two congressmen from Louisiana also disputed the need for new regulations. "In the unlikely event of a spill, it is these landowners and not the federal government, who will be required to clean up their own property and any adjacent affected lands," said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.).

Fleming and Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) scolded a Democratic witness for sharing photos that documented poor maintenance at drilling sites in wildlife refuges, including evidence that oil pipelines had been patched with duct tape and trash bags.

"You took a picture of someone who was innovative and, rather than leaving the fluid to drip on the ground, repaired it with duct tape and a garbage bag, and yet you seem to be very upset about that," McAllister told the witness.

Informed by HuffPost two days later that the trash bag and duct tape photos were from his district, McAllister said he would contact the refuges to make sure these issues were addressed.

The Delta National Wildlife Refuge, which is located in the district of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), was also affected when a Chevron pipeline leaked an estimated 18,000 gallons of crude oil in April 2010.

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