Billions in fund, safety wall urged in oil train safety reports

Times Union | May 29, 2015 | Column by Brian Nearing

A state oil spill cleanup fund, recently boosted from $25 million to $40 million, is still woefully short of what could be needed after a major spill, explosion or fire, and should eventually grow to as much as $2 billion, according to a report on oil train safety issued this week by a county advisory committee to Albany County Executive Dan McCoy.

Issued late Friday, a separate oil safety report by Albany City Mayor Kathy Sheehan also recommended construction of a "sound/safety wall" to protect South End neighborhoods around the Port of Albany, which is the destination each week for hundreds of oil tanker rail cars coming from the Bakken fields of North Dakota.

Commissioned by McCoy a year ago, the 19-page county report also urged the federal government adopt more aggressive crude oil train tank car safety standards and phase-out of older, less-sturdy oil train tankers faster than rules just approved this month. It also calls for the Capital Region to be added to places where crude oil trains must slow down to 40 mph. Both these steps were also suggested by the Sheehan report.

The county report also called for the state to take a comprehensive look at the impact of major oil shipments into and through Albany. Currently, two oil terminals are allowed to handle up to 2.8 billion gallons of crude oil annually after the state Department of Environmental Conservation decided several years ago shipments would have no significant adverse environmental impact.

According to the Sheehan report, construction of a protective wall between the port and surrounding neighborhoods could be "undertaken immediately and will be a show of good faith to the community ... it will reduce dust that comes from the traffic, and will serve to partially protect the community form other air pollutants released from the port."

The county report was authored by Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York; Chris Amato, a staff attorney for the environmental group EarthJustice, and Phillip Landrigan, a doctor a Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Amato also was part of a lawsuit filed against DEC this year over claims the agency did not give enough scrutiny to a planned crude oil heating plant at the Port of Albany; this month, DEC revoked its earlier environmental nod for the project.

"This report echoes the concerns I have expressed to the DEC and the U.S. Department of Transportation on the safety hazards that we face every day," said McCoy in a statement on Friday. "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 area like Albany."

In this year's state budget, a 1970s-era oil spill cleanup fund was increased from a maximum of $25 million to $40 million, which the report called "vastly underfunded." The figure ought to be increased to $2 billion and paid for by a fee on crude oil shipments, the report said.

"While the state fund was increased to $40 million, that doesn't even keep pace with inflation since the law was enacted," said Iwanowicz. "If it did, the fund would be more than $100 million — which would still not be enough."

The federal government also should impose national insurance requirements on freight railroads that haul the highly flammable crude oil, the report added.

Canadian federal lawmakers are considering an insurance requirement for crude oil trains in the wake of a fiery July 2013 oil train crash that killed 47 people and incinerated the heart of the small town of Lac Megantic in Quebec. The railroad involved in that crash carried only $25 million in insurance, and cleanup and repair bills estimated at more than $1 billion are being borne by taxpayers.

Currently in the U.S., there are no federal or state insurance requirements for such oil trains. The proposed Canadian law would tax oil shipped by rail to create a fund of up to $250 million to cover damage that exceeds railroad insurance, which would be set at $1 billion minimum for large railroads, and phased in to reach up to $250 million for smaller railroads that carry oil over relatively short distances.

bnearing@timesunion.com • 518-454-5094 • @Bnearing10

http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Billions-in-fund-safety-wall-urged-in-oil-train-6295772.php

Do you like this post?

Showing 2 reactions


PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy posted about Billions in fund, safety wall urged in oil train safety reports on PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy's Facebook page 2015-06-01 23:08:45 -0400
Billions in fund, safety wall urged in oil train safety reports
@PAUSEnergy tweeted this page. 2015-06-01 23:08:42 -0400
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE works to promote safe, sustainable energy and environmental justice.  We aim to engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry's assault on the people of Albany and our environment.