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Albany Oil Train Protest: Citizens Demand Action

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Representatives from a wide range of organizations gathered outside the Governor’s Mansion on Albany's Eagle Street just before noon tuesday. They say Andrew Cuomo isn't doing enough to protect the people of New York from the risks of crude oil trains.

The rally comes over a year since the deadly explosion of a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota through Canada.  400,000 barrels of crude travel by rail every day, and the issue has become a political flashpoint in Albany.

Charlene Benton invited Governor Cuomo to visit Ezra Prentice Apartments, where she lives, and  "where our children play and live. In close proximity to death with those oil trains. We don't want 'em in our backyard and we need him to come down to ... it's not just Ezra but its important for Ezra because we're ground zero in all this. We're compassionately asking you as voters, as human beings, come on down so you can further understand what this is about."

Susan Weber from Albany is an organizer with Move On dot Org. She addressed the crowd via bullhorn."Most of us are not safe in New York. If we're not within the explosion zone which is, I believe, a mile and a half, we will be wrecked, our economy will be wrecked when there is a Lac-Megantic explosion at the Port of Albany. “

The Canadian government has issued a report blaming that derailment on "systematic weaknesses" in the safety system of the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic Railway. The train carried 1.6 million gallons of crude oil and was left unattended when the braking system failed. The derailment caused a blast that killed 47 people, destroyed 40 buildings and contaminated nearby waters.

The oil activists point out that while Governor Cuomo has appeared to take action through Executive Order 125, the large volume of hazardous crude traveling through New York aboard fragile tank cars has not decreased. Their "list of demands" calls on the governor to issue an executive order halting all transport by rail of crude oil in New York, and to petition the federal government to stop crude oil trains from entering New York.

Sandy Steubing of PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy, has no confidence in Cuomo.   ”He’s basically handing his jurisdiction, his authority to keep us, New Yorkers, safe,  over to the federal government, and the federal government  will never act, we will never be safe as long as we wait for the federal government.”

Speaker after speaker called out toward the mansion, beckoning the governor  "please come out and speak with us, listen to us, hear our concerns"

But Cuomo was hours away, holding public events in Essex County,  where he told WAMC "They're right that it is a problem, it is a safety issue. We've taken a lot of precautions already, that the state is instituting. But we can't do anything that is inconsistent with the federal policy."

Meanwhile, the lust for oil may cause a rise in food prices this fall. A study by North Dakota State University found that farmers stand to lose more than $160 million in revenue because they can't get agricultural products shipped to market due to rail lines essentially overtaken by oil tankers.

The New York Times reports federal Agriculture Department officials are particularly concerned that Canadian Pacific will not be able to fulfill nearly 30,000 requests from farmers and others for rail cars before October.

The freight lines insist their oil shipments have not replaced shipments of crops.

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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