The Voice of the Spill Response Industry

Spill Control Association of America (SCAA)
Written by Claire Suttles

The Spill Control Association of America (SCAA) is the voice of spill response professionals. From equipment manufacturers and response contractors to scientists, commercial divers, wildlife research and rescue folks, and spill management firms, the association brings together the full gamut of professionals who respond to environment-threatening disasters, giving them the support and networking that they need.
“SCAA has demonstrated an unprecedented commitment to ensure the preparedness of the private response community,” says SCAA President Rick Lewis. “Our board of directors is committed to ensuring our members maintain a focus on the health and safety of their employees; provide customers with quality, reputable service; and have a direct positive impact on the quality of the global environment.”

SCAA supports its members in several key ways. Currently, the association’s advocacy focus is on responder immunity, a crucial issue with widespread implications for the entire industry. “Responder immunity continues to be at the center of our concerns for our members,” Mr. Lewis reports. The issue came to the forefront in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. After working to clean up the oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, SCAA members were accused of negligence and drawn into costly lawsuits, which are still being litigated to this day. As a result, many responder companies may become hesitant to engage in certain cleanup activities for fear of being sued. SCAA believes that this vulnerability to legal action could have a lasting negative impact on the industry, preventing the response community from doing their job and leaving the environment at risk. The responder immunity provision under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 is not affording the level of protection as intended.

SCAA is a member of a Coalition comprised of leading spill response, marine salvage and firefighting, and well control companies, and several other associations with an objective to amend the existing legislation that would insure adequate industry protection. “We are trying to get some revisions done to a Coast Guard authorization bill that would provide some protection to our responders who are out there on the front lines to ensure that, if we are following the appropriate response plan, our responders aren’t brought into fictitious lawsuits and costly litigation.”

SCAA also helps members build relationships, which can be critically important during a response situation. “The benefits of membership go beyond our advocacy work,” Mr. Lewis points out. “Like many other industries, our members share similar concerns and fight similar battles. Our advocacy is structured to address our members’ collective concerns. However, the spill control business is unique because on any given day, our members could be working shoulder to shoulder, boat to boat on an event of national significance – competitors working together to solve our customers’ problems and to protect the environment. It is hugely beneficial that our members maintain professional and interpersonal relationships, oftentimes between competitors, in order to effectively collaborate on larger events.”

SCAA fosters relationships with non-member entities as well. “We are very grateful for our relationship with the United States Coast Guard and the Association of Petroleum Industry Co-Op Managers through our Partnership Action Team,” Mr. Lewis says. “We are also very proud of our collaboration with organizations such as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, the American Salvage Association and other relevant regulatory and industry groups.”

Members gather each year for networking and education at SCAA’s Annual Meeting and Conference, held just outside of Washington DC, at the association’s Arlington, Virginia headquarters. “We bring our board and our members together and have a day and a half of relevant speakers on topics such as preparedness and [spill control] science. That is our main event every year.” The group usually heads to Capitol Hill during the event, encouraging congress to listen to the industry’s needs. “Last year we visited 44 different congressional offices to talk about the issue of responder immunity,” Mr. Lewis recalls.

One of the most critical issues that members face today is an aging workforce. In response, SCAA is heavily focused on recruiting the next generation of workers and industry leaders. “More than anything it is about education. A lot of people don’t know our industry. They either think that government takes care of these things, or it just gets done in the background.”

Therefore, the first step in the recruitment process is to make sure young people are aware that the industry exists, and that they recognize the breadth of that industry. “Outside of our association, people think of us as a group of marine spill response contractors, when in reality we are almost 100 members that really are frontline responders for The United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the US Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland security,” says SCAA Vice President Devon Grennan. “It is a great story to tell because, behind the scenes, our members are cleaning up polluted rivers, they are responding to fires and cleanups, they are responding to heritage hazards under Superfund regulations, they are responding to vessel casualties and marine casualties whether it is salvage of a vessel, towing, or hazard relief.”

SCAA formed a special committee to address the needs of Millennials within the industry, including education and recruitment. “FEL, Future Environmental Leaders, was actually born out of our youthful membership. They came to the board and said, ‘our issues are different, our needs are different. The perception of the industry to us is different.’ They asked to form a committee and we were overwhelmingly in support of that effort.”

The new committee is actively bringing young people into the industry. “We tasked the FEL group to investigate how folks get into this business and what we can do to educate folks when they are considering a career, either when they are coming out of school or thinking about school options. So rather than us old guys telling the youth how it is, we are taking advantage of the youth within our membership.”

Millennials tend to be heavily invested in the environment, making a career in spill response an attractive draw. “It is a very exciting business [that is] doing good things,” Mr. Lewis points out. “We are helping the environment; we are keeping industry moving forward. So more than anything else, it is an outreach to make folks aware that this industry exists – and that it is not just a bunch of guys out in a boat laying down [containment] booms. There is a large science piece to what we do, a technical piece to what we do. FEL is really helping us in our outreach there.”

SCAA’s annual Environmental Excellence Awards recognize future leaders, encouraging the best and the brightest to pursue a career in the spill containment industry. “We reach out to a number of maritime academies and we work with those organizations to recognize students who have demonstrated excellence,” Mr. Lewis reports. Since it was launched in 2008, the awards program has expanded to include all seven maritime academies in the U.S. At each academy, one graduating Midshipman or First Classman is recognized due to outstanding interest, creativity, initiative, and commitment to environmental excellence in their studies and extracurricular activities.

Founded in 1973, SCAA has been serving the industry for 42 years. “The mission of SCAA has remained fairly consistent: to bring the response community together,” Mr. Lewis summarizes. “And not just on the contractor side, but to bring all the potentially responsible parties to the table in order to work more cohesively and to understand the expectations on both sides.” While the mission has remained the same, the organization has shifted focus somewhat as the industry evolved, remaining at the forefront of member and industry needs. “Early on, the focus was very maritime centric,” Mr. Lewis explains. “It was more focused on larger shoreline and offshore events. Now the organization is focused inland as much as it is offshore.”

This inland focus is in response to the energy industry’s shift from sea to land. “North America has really become more energy independent,” Mr. Lewis points out. The continent’s oil and gas reserves are being tapped in landlocked areas that were previously unexploited, forcing the industry to find new ways to transport these resources. The response community has had to adapt quickly to the new challenges. Take rail transport, for example. “How many thousands of miles of rail would potentially need coverage? It is different than a fixed terminal on a river. This is basically a mobile refinery or a mobile terminal. The whole response community has had to adapt and look at how this preparedness picture has changed significantly.” After nearly half a century of support, SCAA is well positioned to help the industry successfully adapt, both today and far into the future.



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