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DEC Rescinds Negative Declaration for Global Permit; Calls For Full Environmental Impact Study


Oil rail car standards are under scrutiny in the courts as South End neighborhood residents ponder their fate in the shadow of oil operations at the Port of Albany.

A quarter of all crude oil by rail shipments originating in the Bakken shale region pass through Greater New York/New Jersey, the Hudson Valley and the Capital Region. Activists warn these areas face daily risks of spills and explosions that could devastate communities, local economies, drinking water security, and the environment.

Riverkeeper is challenging new U.S. Department of Transportation crude-by-rail standards in federal court, saying that they fail to protect the public and the environment from proven threats. The clean-water advocacy organization is demanding better rules to address what it calls an ongoing national safety crisis, according to group president Paul Gallay.   "These seriously flawed new standards all but guarantee there are going to be more explosive derailments. There have been six already this year alone. And it's gonna leave people in New York and our environment here on the Hudson at very grave risk. The shortcomings in the regulations are numerous, including too high of a maximum speed limit, unprotective tank car design and a timeline that lets substandard tank cars, which the National Transportation Safety Board admits are unsafe, stay on the road as much as 10 more years."

Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City on May 15, a little more than a week after the DOT issued a final tank car and railroad operation rule, which had been the subject of scrutiny and controversy since its proposal in 2014. The suit closely follows another filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by a coalition of conservation and citizen groups that includes Earthjustice, Waterkeeper Alliance, ForestEthics and the Sierra Club.

Waterkeeper's Larissa Liebmann contends the oil industry relies on dangerous so-called "unit" trains, which may link as many as 120 or more tank cars carrying more than 3 million tons of crude oil.  "Even beyond the fact that we have explosions and fires that can happen in communities, a single spill of one tank car can mess up the water for swimming for a good amount of time, for fishing; it can cause drinking water sources to be contaminated."

A valve malfunction during a tank cleaning is suspected in a spill of 420 gallons of either crude oil or diesel fuel at the Port of Albany on Monday. According to the DEC, the substance did not reach the Hudson River. Two workers at the Global Partners oil terminal were taken to Albany Medical Center after being sprayed with fuel when a hose came loose.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy issued a statement arguing that further review needs to be done before any permits for expansion of Massachusetts-based Global's oil operations are issued. McCoy, who declined to go on mic, asked "What if that oil had been Canadian Tar Sands and leaked into the Hudson River?" He is stepping up his call that a full environmental impact study be undertaken.

Meanwhile, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued a press release late Thursday regarding a permit for Global Partner's proposed oil-warming facility at the Port of Albany that critics fear would make the port a hub for heavy Canadian tar sands crude oil as well as the millions of gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude it's now handling.

Seven boilers would be employed to facilitate offloading of dense crude from rail to Hudson River barges destined for coastal refineries.

The DEC announced its intent to rescind itsNovember 2013 “negative declaration”issued on Global's expansion proposal which stated that Global’s proposal would have no significant environmental impact. The agency cites new information that has come to light which caused it to reconsider its determination.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens is quoted in the release: “This community has voiced its concerns and raised some serious issues. Through the environmental review process, DEC will continue to evaluate the project’s impacts.”

Hayley Carlock, Environmental Advocacy Attorney with Scenic Hudson, says the DEC decision is the first step in requiring an environmental impact statement. "If DEC proceeds and Global just goes along with it, it just takes however long the environmental impact review takes and then there’s a comment period on the draft environmental impact review and all of that, so it could take a long time or on the shorter end it could be like one year.”

Global, which has not responded to requests for comment,  has 10 calendar days to respond to DEC’s notice.  

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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