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NY Governor: Time For Feds To Act On Oil Trains

WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

Governor Andrew Cuomo says New York has taken steps to protect residents and the environment from the risks posed by crude oil trains and says it's time the federal government does its part.

Six months ago, Cuomo tasked state agencies with improving and assessing New York’s capacity to prevent and respond to crude oil accidents. His administration is out with a report outlining state efforts to increase rail car inspections, improve oil spill response plans and expand training opportunities for first responders.

Inspections have so far examined 6,664 rail cars and 2,564 miles of track. Some 740 track and equipment defects were found. Authorities say minor defects are typically corrected while inspectors are on site. In other cases, defective rail cars are removed from service. 

DEC Executive Deputy Commissioner Marc Gerstman says New York has become part of a pipeline of oil traveling from the drilling fields to refineries in other states.    "Much of the industry is regulated by the federal government, so New York State has pressed the federal government to be pro-active, to step up and take regulatory actions necessary to protect New Yorkers, their health, safety and natural resources."

The report calls on the federal government to impose new standards featuring stronger regulations for rail cars, to further reduce the risk posed by oil trains, which have been under the microscope especially since the Lac-Megantic disaster in 2013.

Sandy Steubing is with PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy, which believes New York stopped short.    "The Cuomo Administration could be using their summary abatement authority under the environmental conservation law, due to imminent hazard of these trains, and stop them immediately."

Scenic Hudson is taking the matter a step further: urging that the Hudson River be designated as a high-consequence environmental resource requiring special consideration and avoidance in routing decisions as well as mitigation measures—such as slower speeds when crude oil trains are on the almost 50 miles of tracks immediately adjacent to the river—if avoidance is not possible. Scenic Hudson wants the state join it in pushing for this designation and enhanced restrictions.

Meanwhile, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, an outspoken critic of oil trains, is calling on the Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct an environmental review for Global Petroleum's application for an air Title V permit modification in its quest to expand oil transport and storage operations at the Port of Albany.    "With this facility expanding, it means there's gonna be more potential for hazards for the residents of Albany County, and people walking and driving by these locations down at the port. So I'm seeking that the State of New York work with DEC and the partners that we have in federal government to protect residents. I believe any expansion of Global operations, or permit modification would have a significant impact on our community and environment."

The order states that the heating and storage of crude oil at the Port of Albany could create a “condition detrimental to the public health and safety of the residents of Albany County.”

McCoy issued a March 12th moratorium on the expansion of the processing of crude oil at the port and briefly floated the idea of relocating residents.

Scenic Hudson has been calling for a moratorium on crude oil transport along the Hudson River until further safety measures are in place. The group is urging the state to amend its Oil Spill Fund to increase fees on crude oil transported through New York and allow that funding to be used for spill prevention and preparedness.

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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