Legislature Kills Bill, Risking Harm from Toxic Spills in the Bay

State legislation sponsored by Baykeeper, a bill that would have protected wildlife and San Francisco Bay waters from the impacts of toxic chemical spills, was recently killed by budget-cutting legislators.

Senate Bill 718 was inspired by the January release of a mysterious sticky gray substance into the Bay. Dubbed in press reports as “mystery goo,” the unknown toxic chemical killed more than 200 birds and harmed many more.

California has an existing system for state-funded agencies to respond to oil spills with cleanup and wildlife rescue. But the state agencies cannot be activated during chemical spills like the January “mystery goo” spill, because they are funded to respond only to petroleum-based spills.

As a result of the bill’s failure, if another toxic chemical spill happens in the Bay, cleanup and wildlife rescue will be left entirely to citizen responders and nonprofits like Baykeeper, rather than the state’s trained and funded oil spill response teams.

Baykeeper and Audubon California co-sponsored SB 718 to address this loophole. The bill, introduced by Senators Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, would have created a funding mechanism for spill response and wildlife rescue during spills of toxic non-petroleum substances into the Bay and all state waters. It also clarified that the state’s top priority during a spill of any kind is to immediately protect waterways and wildlife.

After oil spill responders failed to take action during the January chemical spill, Baykeeper stepped in to coordinate a search and rescue operation for injured birds, along with Golden Gate Audubon, WildCare of Marin, and Wildlife Emergency Services. The International Bird Rescue Center cleaned and rehabilitated the rescued birds. Baykeeper and our partner nonprofits did not receive any state funding to cover the expense of this work.

SB 718 would have authorized the Office of Spill Prevention and Response to borrow up to $500,000 from the state’s oil spill prevention fund for containment, cleanup, and wildlife rescue in spill events where the substance is non-petroleum based. Once the responsible parties for the spill were found, they would have been required to reimburse the state for the costs of cleanup, including accrued interest.

 “Cleanup and wildlife rescue should not depend on whether the source of the spill came out of an oil well,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Baykeeper Executive Director. “The legislature’s failure to pass SB 718 means that Baykeeper and other nonprofits have to be ready to take action on our own if another toxic chemical is spilled into San Francisco Bay.”

Click here to help Baykeeper be ready to take action if a toxic chemical is spilled into the Bay.