A divided oil train response in Albany

Capital New York | June 1, 2015 | Column by Scott Waldman

ALBANY—Mayor Kathy Sheehan of Albany and Albany County executive Dan McCoy said they were working together on a major plan that would address the effects that the transportation of billions of gallons of crude by train have had on the region. Instead, they released dueling reports within 24 hours of each other, with the city largely supporting the Cuomo administration's response to the recent proliferation of oil trains and the county more critical of the state's actions.

Oil trains in Albany. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

The county essentially called on the Cuomo administration to halt more oil trains, and to aggressively study the potential environmental effects of a crude heating facility at the Port of Albany. (The administration recently reversed an earlier position and will now require a full environmental review of a heating facility.)

The city report repeatedly thanked the administration for its current efforts, called on federal officials to do more and suggested oil train operators pay for more community initiatives such as sound barriers and public gardens.

The report from the city of Albany, which arrived a day later than the county's report,recommended minimizing “conflicting meetings/presentations” to the public. One of the issues for the community around oil trains, the report found, was miscommunication from local, state and federal agencies.

“The lack of information flow and poor communication between state agencies, private companies, and local officials have created silos of information with reporting responsibilities that may not include all stakeholders,” the report said.

Cuomo administration officials held separate closed-door meetings with county and state officials in regard to oil trains, Capital has reported. County officials have been more critical of the administration's approach to oil trains and issued a moratorium on the expansion of crude oil operations at the Port of Albany. The city's report largely focuses on federal recommendations and echoes the Cuomo's administration call for Washington to require tighter safety features on oil tankers as well as a more rapid time for the construction of safer cars.

“This report echoes the concerns I have expressed to the DEC and the US Department of Transportation on the safety hazards that we face every day,” Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said in a statement. “There have been five oil tanker derailments this year in North America. We are fortunate that there has been no loss of life, but we have to be prepared should there be an incident in an urban areas like Albany.”

The city's report will serve as a “blueprint for what needs to be done,” Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said.

“This report gathers the essential changes that are needed to improve the safety of everyone who comes near the oil train tracks, especially those who live near them,” Sheehan said in a statement.

The 19-page Albany County report recommended the state take stronger action, including raising the oil spill fund from $40 million to $2 billion. The county also recommends the state Department of Environmental Conservation conduct a full environmental review of a proposal by Global Partners to conduct a crude oil boiler at the Port of the Albany that could turn the region into a major shipping point for tar sands crude from Western Canada. The county also recommended that emergency response officials ride on oil trains to determine areas where a better response may be needed. The county also recommends stronger penalties for oil train operators that fail to adequately report spills.

Next month, Albany County is holding a day-long summit on oil trains.

Under the Cuomo administration, Albany has been transformed into a major route for oil trains, with state approval to ship 2.8 billion gallons through the port. Much of that oil is then offloaded at the port and shipped down the Hudson by ship or barge.

The reports, about a year in the making, came about 24 hours from each other. The eight-page report from the city of Albany was generally less critical of state action and claimed that it had delayed from its original September release to incorporate state action on a proposed crude oil boiler at the Port of Albany.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced that it was rescinding a preliminary approval of the crude oil boiler that would allow rail companies to bring tar sands crude through Albany. The state also developed a statewide emergency response plan for oil trains and increased air testing in communities around the port.

The city's report thanks the state Department of Environmental Conservation multiple times and is generally critical of federal actions, but not those of the Cuomo administration. The city recommends the construction of a sound barrier between residential neighborhoods and the operations at the Port of Albany and that oil train companies fund annual equipment purchases as well as training for Albany firefighter. The city's report also recommends decommissioning an oil train track that is located just feet away from a public housing complex. It also recommends that CSX and Canadian Pacific contribute scholarship funds, landscaping, jobs and internships to communities most affected by the trains.

http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/06/8569082/divided-oil-train-response-albany

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.