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Shelby asks Coast Guard to protect coast from oil slick

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee (CJS) has sent a letter to Admiral Thad Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, to request immediate assistance to protect the Gulf Coast from the oil spill predicted to make landfall in Louisiana by Friday and may spread as far east as Alabama and Florida.

“It is imperative to proactively respond to the predicted threat to the Gulf Coast,” said Senator Shelby.  “We must posture federal assets in a manner that will protect the most sensitive ecosystems.  The potential disaster looming in the Gulf of Mexico could devastate Alabama’s economically crucial species such as snapper, grouper, red fish, mackerel, oysters, shrimp, crab, and wildlife populations and their habitats, as well as the tourism and recreational businesses that rely on the Gulf.  It is my hope that federal, state, and local officials will continue to work closely together to do everything possible to minimize the negative ecological and economic impacts to our Gulf Coast communities.”

Shelby’s staff says he continues to work with BP, Transocean, relevant federal agencies and other congressional members to ensure the response is cohesive and consistent.

Crews were supposed to begin setting fire to oil leaking from the site of an exploded drilling rig in the Gulf on Wednesday, a last-ditch effort to get rid of it before it reaches environmentally sensitive marshlands on the coast.

The slick was about 20 miles east of the mouth of the Mississippi river.

About 42,000 gallons of oil a day are leaking into the Gulf from the blown-out well where the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank last week. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported Tuesday afternoon the latest forecasts through the end of the week show the oil plume reaching the Mississippi River delta and the Louisiana coast by late Friday.

Winds were expected to shift to the south as early as Tuesday, which should push the slick potentially toward easter Gulf beaches in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

The Times-Picayune sent a reporter to a press conference Tuesday afternoon where Charlie Henry, a scientific support coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the response team expects the southeast winds to continue for several days, but officials cant project landfall for other portions of the Gulf because it is outside a three-day forecast window.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.