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Resolution To Create Oil Train Task Force Tabled

Plattsburgh City Hall
WAMC Photo
Plattsburgh City Hall

City councillors in Plattsburgh have tabled a resolution to create an oil train task force.

The lengthy resolution offered by Ward 1 Democrat Rachelle Armstrong included expressions of concerns over the transport of Bakken oil and historic context. It noted health issues over greater diesel emissions from the train traffic. The multi-page resolution expounded on the oil’s volatility and potential ecosystem threats. It calls for the establishment of an Oil Train Task Force to “..further research ... transport ... through our region and to recommend to the Mayor and Council actions that will safeguard and educate ...citizens..”
As the item came up for discussion during the council’s work session Thursday evening, sponsor Armstrong was peppered with questions, starting with Ward 5 Democrat Becky Kasper.  “What is really the mission? What are the expected outcomes of this task force?”
Independent Mayor James Calnon weighed in.  “This resolution establishes and appoints members, but I don’t see an appointment process.”  
Ward 4 Democrat Paul O’Connell harshly criticized how the resolution was drafted.  “If we don’t have a task and we don’t know how we’re going to appoint a task force,  then I think we should table something and talk about it when we’re more solid. We may decide we may not even need a task force.” Armstrong retorted “You had all week to tell me that.” To which O’Connell said “I can choose when I want to tell you that. I’m going to vote no on it.” 
Perhaps most critical was Ward 3 Republican Dale Dowdle, who opposes the oil trains but is concerned that the resolution was formed during emails between Armstrong, activists and councillors rather than in a public forum.  “I didn’t have a clear understanding of what the task force would entail. And I was somewhat fearful that some of our professionals within the county who are involved in the emergency preparedness and responders that their work process would be interrupted or challenged or questioned by the task force. So the resolution I was okay on until we got to the actual task force. In a revised resolution I would just like to have our concerns expressed, and that would be it.”
The resolution was tabled unanimously.
Sponsor Rachelle Armstrong was taken aback by the opposition to her resolution, but after thinking about the comments, she said Friday morning that they would help her refine it.  “This is my very first resolution and I may have gotten carried away! As I revise I will be considering what safety measures need to be established and then a strategy for putting pressure on the federal government, which is ultimately responsible for the fact that these kinds of trains can go through. Public awareness and public safety are the two outcomes that I hope will be achieved.”
Also on Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Northeast regional office filed suit against the U.S. Coast Guard and the EPA. Senior Scientist Mollie Matteson explains that the agencies have failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act because there are inadequate oil spill response plans for the New York Harbor and lower Hudson River.  “There are seventeen federally listed species in the Hudson River or in the New York Bay. The Coast Guard and the EPA have never taken a formal look with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service in terms of how response might affect those listed species such as sea turtles and sturgeon.”
This is the text of the Plattsburgh city council’s proposed oil train resolution:
WHEREAS, many citizens in Plattsburgh are concerned about the new push by the fossil fuel industry to transport Bakken and Tar Sands Crude via rail throughout our region; and
WHEREAS, refineries in Albany have expanded to accommodate an even greater volume of these and other dangerous products; and
WHEREAS, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also recognizes the risk of transporting volatile crude by rail in passing Executive Order #125 directing New York State agencies to conduct a comprehensive review of crude rail transport safety procedures and emergency response preparedness and Albany County, NY issued a moratorium on crude increases at the Port of Albany pending a public health investigation; and
WHEREAS, the last few years have seen a dramatic rise in rail crude transport nationwide, and more crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail accidents in 2013 than the preceding four decades, amounting to more than 1.15 million gallons in 2013. Most tragically in July 2013, 72 tanker cars loaded with 2 million gallons of flammable crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic, Canada, causing explosions that killed 47 people, destroyed dozens of buildings, and caused over $1 billion in damages; and
WHEREAS, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration recently acknowledged the failure to appropriately classify the contents of crude oil shipments to reflect the hazardous and highly flammable nature of the substances being transported by rail and the devastating consequences of a crude oil rail accident including loss of life, property and environmental damage, and thus made recommendations to avoid urban areas when transporting crude, and to improve rail safety regulations for crude oil transport, including worse-case scenario emergency response plans; and
WHEREAS, increased rail crude oil traffic in the North Country corridor will lead to an increase in diesel emissions in communities along rail lines, and exposure to particulate matter from diesel engines has been linked to impaired pulmonary development in adolescents; increased cardiopulmonary mortality; measurable pulmonary inflammation; increased severity and frequency of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and hospital admissions in children; increased rates of heart attacks and strokes in adults; increased risk of cancer; and increased asthma and lung disease in children; and
WHEREAS, crude oil, like that coming from the Bakken shale reservoir, is known to be volatile, highly flammable, and contain elevated concentrations of benzene, a potent carcinogen, and 
WHEREAS, trains delivering crude oil traveling through the North Country will follow routes adjacent to Lake Champlain and various waterways, posing a serious threat to these ecosystems, and to Northern New York’s agricultural irrigation and drinking water supplies; and
WHEREAS, given the record of crude-oil rail accidents in recent years, a train accident or derailment could have catastrophic effects if it occurred in any populated area; and
WHEREAS, historically, when environmental accidents do occur, oil companies spend years in litigation over damages as strategy to undercut payments to affected communities; and
WHEREAS, the cumulative impacts of crude oil train traffic through the North Country and other parts of Eastern New York, in addition to the cumulative upstream and downstream greenhouse gas impacts of these fossil fuels, should analyzed prior to the transport of any of these hazardous materials through our communities, now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the Plattsburgh City Council establishes an Oil Train Task Force made up of stakeholders that represent our community’s diversity in order to further research this transport of hazardous materials through our region and to recommend to the Mayor and Council actions that will safeguard and educate our citizens; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this Oil Train Task Force, though it will convene independently, will take no independent action, but will rather report exclusively and directly to the Mayor and Common Council.

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