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Bomb Trains on the Hudson, Leanne, Part 2, 873
Fri Jul 29, 2016 10:26
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Continued from Part 1...

Although the State’s narrative has been that it is pre-empted by federal railroad law and therefore cannot do anything to regulate crude by rail, there are nevertheless areas where the State has some regulatory authority. Various advocacy organizations are finding creative ways to make an impact locally on crude oil transport by rail and by vessel and barge.

EarthJustice, a national organization dedicated to environmental law, along with the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, filed a lawsuit against the DEC and Global Companies in June 2014. The Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the residents of the Ezra Prentice Homes, a public housing development directly across the street from the Port of Albany, as well as Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

The lawsuit alleges that the DEC did not adhere to its own Environmental Justice Policy by failing to implement a public participation plan. The DEC had issued a “Negative Declaration” on Global’s proposal to build heating units to allow them to transload heavy crude, which means that they determined there were no environmental hazards associated with the project. The lawsuit seeks to contest this Declaration.

The residents at Ezra Prentice Homes have complained of air quality issues that cause nausea and asthma, and the potential long-term effects of being exposed to benzene, a known carcinogen. The DEC received over 19,000 public comments on their Negative Declaration and in May 2015 they issued a “Letter of Intent to Withdraw the Negative Declaration” which would trigger a much more stringent environmental review process. While the DEC decision is pending, the lawsuit has been stayed.

Riverkeeper is pushing for more inspections and repairs to rail infrastructure as well as for railroad reports to be made publically available. They have documented and exposed the issue extensively. Ulster County Legislator Mike Hein has proposed that the county hire an engineer to inspect the bridges but the issue has become complicated because the bridges are considered private property. They have also approached the Town of Poughkeepsie Water Board to inform them of the threat to the community’s drinking water. If the water intakes were shut down due to a spill the Town only has about 36 hours of water. This would affect not only residences, but hospitals, school and emergency fire services as well.

With other stakeholders, Riverkeeper is also pushing to increase the amount of money in a spill response fund, which was originally set at $25 million in 1977. If the fund were to keep up with the cost of inflation it would be $97 million today. The Governor raised the amount in the fund to $40 million this year, a substantial increase but not enough according to Riverkeeper. Although having a State spill fund is important, ideally the companies themselves would pay for any necessary clean-up in the event of an accident. For this reason, Riverkeeper is also lobbying for a “financial assurance” bill, which would require companies that transport oil to demonstrate they have the financial resources to clean-up in a “worst case scenario.” In the Lac Megantic spill, the transport company declared bankruptcy and the government was left footing the bill. Hudson believes this bill would increase the safety considerations for the crude transport industry because they would be financially motivated to prevent accidents and spills. This year, the Bill passed the assembly with broad bi-partisan support but the Senate did not bring it to the floor for a vote. They plan on reintroducing the Bill in the next legislative session.

The Sierra Club is working to improve rail car safety regulations. In May 2015 the Department of Transportation issued its new safety standards for crude oil tank cars. The standards include a 10-year phase out of the cars currently used to transport crude oil. The Sierra Club continues to call for an immediate ban, citing the DOT’s own projections that “15 derailments on mainline are likely every year.”

The environmental advocates have found political support. In a letter to the DOT and the Department of Energy early this year, U.S. Senator for New York Charles Schumer said, “When it comes to protecting communities from the dangers of crude by rail shipments we need an all-of-the-above approach. This approach must include both comprehensive tank car standards to prevent derailment and reduce the risks of breaches when those derailment do occur, available and accessible information and resources so that emergency response personnel can prepare for disasters, and finally a stabilization requirement that will reduce the volatility and subsequent risk posed by the crude itself.”

Political will continues to grow with a large number of Hudson River Valley County Legislatures and local governments passing resolutions against crude oil transport.

Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper closed his presentation at the Kingston City Hall forum by reminding the crowd that “they said it would be impossible to ban fracking…six years ago I remember having lots of conversations with experts, environmental leaders who have been in many fights over the years saying ‘Theres no way we can stop fracking. We just have to make sure it gets regulated as best we can. ‘ We proved that wrong.” Judging by the spirited applause in the room it seems that the fight is on.

  • Bomb Trains on the Hudson, Leanne, Part 1, 1825 - jt.indypendent, Fri Jul 29 10:25
    Josefina says the trains have been there since she moved into her house on Greenkill Avenue in Kingston in 2012, “They pass through every hour or two. The noise, it’s constant. It shakes the house. “ ... more
    • Bomb Trains on the Hudson, Leanne, Part 2, 873 - jt.indypendent, Fri Jul 29 10:26
      • Re: Bomb Trains on the Hudson, Leanne, Part 2, 873 - jt.indypendent, Sat Aug 6 02:10
        By Leanne Tory-Murphy KINGSTON, N.Y.—In late 2011, freight trains in New York State began to carry a new kind of cargo, transporting a highly volatile form of crude oil extracted through hydraulic... more
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