By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
The United States Coast Guard is a military branch that falls under the Department of Homeland Security. Through the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Coast Guard has 11 missions.
One of those missions is marine environmental protection. In regard to handling oil and other hazardous substances spills in waters and shorelines of the coastal zones in the United States, the Coast Guard serves as the lead federal agency.
The Coast Guard’s Marine Environmental Program
The Coast Guard has the Office of Marine Environmental Response Policy. This office is connected to the Marine Environmental Protection (MEP) program, which includes the “planning, preparations, and operations to prevent, enforce, investigate, respond to, and mitigate the threat, frequency, and consequences of oil discharges and hazardous substance releases in U.S. waters.”
In addition, the Coast Guard develops and enforces regulations that protect the environment from invasive species, deter illegal ocean dumping and prevent hazardous substances from entering the water. These hazardous substances, including oil and gasoline, can affect marine wildlife and coral growth for years.
The Coast Guard’s Marine Science Technicians and Their Role in Environmental Protection
The Coast Guard has personnel dedicated to marine environmental protection, including marine science technicians. The Coast Guard’s marine science technicians conduct site inspections to ensure compliance with environmental protection regulations. They also respond to pollution incidents and inspect vessels during boardings to ensure compliance with domestic laws and international treaties.
According to the Coast Guard, marine science technicians also conduct waterfront facility inspections at commercial sites to ensure compliance with established rules and regulations. These marine science technicians are commonly assigned to Coast Guard Sectors and Marine Safety Units located throughout the U.S., so that the Coast Guard can provide a timely response to marine environmental incidents.
Related link: Maintaining Water Standards Despite Climate Changes
The Coast Guard’s National Strike Force
In addition, the Coast Guard also has the National Strike Force, comprised of over 200 highly trained and experienced Coast Guard members who promptly respond to major oil and hazardous substance environmental pollution incidents. They provide both public and environmental protection through the use of specialized equipment.
According to the Coast Guard, the National Strike Force staffs the National Strike Force Coordination Center, the Atlantic Strike Team, the Gulf Strike Team and the Pacific Strike Team. This distribution of personnel enables National Strike Force teams to promptly respond to major incidents around the country, such as the BP oil spill that occurred in in April of 2010. This environmental pollution incident resulted in 205.8 million gallons of oil and 225,000 tons of methane being released into the Gulf of Mexico.
Related link: The Future of Sustainability and the Recycling of Plastics
The Coast Guard Partners with Other Federal/State Agencies and Civilian Stakeholders to Handle Marine Pollution
When major environmental pollution incidents occur, the Coast Guard promptly responds to mitigate any damage occurring to the marine environment. It also works with other organizations to handle any pollution incidents; these partnerships are critical to the success of the Coast Guard’s environmental protection mission. These partners include:
- Other federal and state agencies
- Civilian stakeholders
The Coast Guard: Always Vigilant in Protecting the Marine Environment
The Coast Guard responds to several thousand environmental pollution incidents each year in the United States. Its organized and coordinated responses are critical in protecting our environment. The Coast Guard also takes a proactive role in regulating shoreside facilities to provide education and enforcement that will prevent oil spills and environmental damage.
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