Leno Legislation Protects Marine Wildlife Affected by Mysterious Spills

Mar 23, 2015

SB718 Would Ensure That First Responders Can Act Quickly to Protect Sensitive Shorelines and Species

Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Baykeeper Program Director, sejal@baykeeper.org, 510-735-9700 Ext. 107 (office), 925-330-7757 (mobile)

SAN FRANCISCO – Senator Mark Leno is teaming up with environmental protection advocates today to announce legislation that would protect wildlife in the event of a marine spill involving a non-petroleum based substance. The legislation was inspired by the recent discovery of a mysterious sticky gray substance, dubbed in press reports as “mystery goo,” in the San Francisco Bay that killed more than 200 birds and threatened many more. Senate Bill 718, which is jointly authored by Senator Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, fixes a gap in existing law by creating a funding mechanism for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation during such rare events.

“California has a sophisticated oil spill response system, but in the unique event when a pollutant is unidentified, there is no clear funding mechanism for the cleanup,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “This legislation clarifies that the state’s top priority during a spill of any kind is to immediately protect waterways and wildlife, regardless of what type of substance caused the problem.”

SB 718 authorizes the Office of Spill Prevention and Response to borrow up to $500,000 from the state’s oil spill prevention fund for the rehabilitation and rescue of wildlife in spill events where the substance is non-petroleum based. The bill gives the state clear authority to quickly respond to these events. Once the responsible parties for the spills are found, they would be required to reimburse the state for the costs of cleanup, including accrued interest.

Senator Leno and the co-sponsors of the bill, San Francisco Baykeeper and Audubon California, will be holding a media availability on SB 718 today, March 23 from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at 455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 14800.

"When a spill happens, it is essential that first responders can act quickly to protect sensitive shorelines and species,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, interim executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper. “This bill will help ensure that state, local and nonprofit responders are working in concert -- and with adequate resources -- to prevent harm to San Francisco Bay and all of California's waters."

The unidentified sticky substance that impacted seabirds in the San Francisco Bay this year first appeared in mid-January. The gummy synthetic material coated hundreds of birds many of which died because they could not maintain their body heat. Others were rehabilitated and released back into the wild by volunteers from local non-profit organizations. While the California Department of Fish and Wildlife investigated the incident, no significant state resources were available to support non-governmental agencies in their cleanup, rescue and rehabilitation efforts. The International Bird Rescue center, a publicly supported non-profit group, spent about $150,000 on animal care.

“While California’s marine oil spill response system is one of the best in the world, wildlife agencies are constrained by a lack of funding and protocols for dealing with a non-oil emergency,” said Brigid McCormack, executive director of Audubon California. “Senate Bill 718 creates clear funding mechanisms and guidelines on how we can best help birds and other wildlife during these non-oil spills like the one that killed so many waterbirds in San Francisco Bay.”

SB 718 will be heard in policy committees this spring. For bill language, please contact Ali Bay at ali.bay@sen.ca.gov.

Join us to hold polluters accountable and defend the Bay DONATE NOW >