Feds flex muscle at DEC

Times Union | May 18, 2015 | Column by Brian Nearing

EPA wants to see details of port oil heating plant

As state environmental officials ready a decision on a crude oil heating plant at the Port of Albany that opponents fear will process Canadian tar sands oil, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned the state that it wants to see any proposed permit before a decision becomes final.

As part of the demand Friday, EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck also reminded state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens that her office had written to DEC more than a year ago asking questions about the oil project by Massachusetts-based Global Partners. DEC never replied.

EPA wants DEC to provide any revised draft permit "prior to officially proposing it to EPA for the 45-day review period," Enck wrote. That would allow EPA to work "corroboratively with DEC to ensure that outstanding permitting issues concerning Global are addressed."

Her letter to Martens also included a copy of an April 28, 2014, letter from EPA to DEC that challenged the accuracy of company-provided air pollution figures used by the state to review the Global project.

"DEC is reviewing EPA's letter along with all comments received during the comment period. No decision on the permit has been made," said DEC spokesman Tom Mailey.

Environmental opponents have been pushing DEC to conduct a full environmental review on the project — which DEC initially ruled would not have a significant environmental impact — and ultimately block it. A spokeswoman for Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, who has joined this call, confirmed he has met with DEC recently to restate his position, but the spokeswoman declined to characterize the representations made by the DEC.

"It is quite shocking to learn that the Cuomo administration would be on the verge of granting a permit to allow big oil to move dirty and dangerous tar sands oil through Albany and down the Hudson River without conducting a full environmental review," said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. "Now, as we learn that they failed to consult, as the Clean Air Act requires, with the federal EPA it's another sad day for science-based policy making in New York state."

Global brings crude oil into the port via rail and is seeking a state air pollution permit that would allow it to run a plant with seven boilers to heat crude oil. Heating the oil would make it easier to pump out of rail tank cars and into storage tanks for later transfer to barges headed down the Hudson River to coastal refineries.

According to a report in Capital New York, DEC officials have been holding private meetings with local elected officials warning that it would be difficult for the state to oppose the Global project.

The company has been importing crude for some three years without a heating plant, leading some to speculate that Global may be planning to import Canadian tar sands oil, a thicker type of crude that must be heated in cold weather in order to be pumped.

Current oil imports are from the Bakken fields of North Dakota, which produce a lighter crude that can be more easily pumped. Tar sands oil is thicker and heavier than Bakken crude, and sinks in water, making it more difficult to clean up.

In June, the environmental group Earthjustice sued DEC over its finding the project would have no significant environmental impact. That lawsuit remains pending in state Supreme Court in Albany County, said EarthJustice staff attorney Chris Amato on Monday.

Last year, EPA challenged DEC findings, based on Global measurements, that the expansion would produce 39.59 tons per year of emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. That is just under a 40 tons per year limit that would require installation of "lowest achievable emission" pollution controls, or require the company to obtain offsets reducing the equivalent amount of pollution elsewhere.

Currently, the Global terminal has the capacity to emit 147 tons annually of petrochemical VOCs, a level that kicks in federal requirements under the Nonattainment New Source Review program for control of ozone. Those requirements include measurements for another petrochemical, nitrogen oxide, or NOx, that forms ozone, which in turn forms smog in the atmosphere.

The DEC draft permit, or any other DEC reports, contains no NOx emission records for Global, according to the EPA letter.

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

http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Feds-flex-muscle-at-DEC-6271562.php

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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.