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DEC Scrutinizing Oil Shipping & Handling

Roy Luck, flickr

With Albany County worried about crude oil shipments, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officials are looking to the EPA for oil spill contingency plans and demanding answers from the major oil shipper at the crux of the controversy.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has been busy writing letters. The agency's regional permit administrator William Clarke fired one off Monday to Global Companies LLC with 29 questions involving rail carrier agreements, rail routes, insurance, whether the company has a disaster plan and how it would communicate with first responders and citizens in the event of an explosion or other incident in Albany.   DEC Executive Deputy Commissioner Marc Gerstman:   "DEC issued a letter yesterday to global requesting information concerning the operations at the port of Albany. The Department has been working with the community and working with the Environmental interests, the city of Albany and the County of Albany  to pose a questions that need to be answered by Global in order to ensure that there is full disclosure of all aspects of the operations at the Global facility."

Excerpt from one of the documents DEC sent to Global Companies LLC

The DEC says it will deny permits if the Massachusetts-based Global does not respond. State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens also sent a letter Monday. His went to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. It pointed out that under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, EPA is responsible for creating Inland Area Contingency Plans to improve preparedness for oil spills. 

Martens wrote a review of crude oil rail safety ordered by Governor Andrew Cuomo in January and found immediate action was needed by EPA to update contingency plans and develop response plans for environmentally sensitive areas.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, who recently pushed a moratorium on expanding crude oil facilities at the port, says he applauds the DEC's actions. He points out that Global has refused to answer even basic questions asked by Albany County residents regarding the safety of operations at the port and the so-called "oil-trains."    "I went to a meeting last night held by Global. It was supposed to be at the Albany Library: they changed it to the Holiday Inn at the last minute. And I gotta tell ya, it was a waste of my time because they didn't even answer the basic questions again. And for the DEC to say they want answers to 29 basic questions, and this company is refusing to answer then and tell them how much liability insurance they’re gonna have... I hope the DEC does reject the application. And we are still gonna go forward with a full environmental study. It's about the health risks to the residents of Albany county. And I hope the federal government gets involved with the governor and basically looks at rail safety as whole. Because here, not just in the Capital Region, this is a national issue, that we have to look at as this tar sand oil is being shipped more and more through all of our states, we need to know the impact its gonna have on the environment and the safety of our residents.”

DEC Region 3 Deputy Regional Permit Administrator James Eldred sent Global Companies a "Notice of Incomplete Application" for Global's New Windsor facility. The DEC has a laundry list of questions about the Orange County project, which, similar to plans the company has for its Port of Albany facility, entails installing boilers for heating railroad cars and tanks, among other concerns.

Albany Common Council Member Judd Krasher of the 11th ward  is encouraged by all of the DEC's actions. He says  "DEC is finally using more teeth than bark, which is what the community has been asking for a long time, and while we can't declare victory yet, I do have to get significant credit to council members [Dorcey] Applyrs and [Vivian] Kornegay along with PAUSE  and Citizen Action for their tremendous work and making sure that Global is held accountable. The citizens of Albany have made it very clear, that they did not want this facility in Albany. It's dangerous. That is without question."

The Associated Press reports spokeswoman Mary Mears responded to Joe Martens letter that the EPA is actively working to enhance prevention and response for oil transport safety. No word from Global Partners as to how it will handle or respond to its two letters from the DEC.

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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