River is no place to park oil barges

Published 5:30 pm, Monday, August 15, 2016

Now we face a new threat that could seriously undermine these achievements.

The U.S. Coast Guard is considering regulations that would establish anchorage grounds for commercial vessels along the Hudson River — up to 10 sites between Yonkers, Westchester County, and Kingston, Ulster County. In a river as difficult to navigate as the Hudson, it's important vessels have "safe harbors" — places to sit out storms and heavy fog and cut down on crew fatigue. However, if the purpose of these anchorages is to warehouse barges filled with volatile crude oil, they are totally unacceptable.

Such offshore "parking lots" would significantly increase the environmental risks our river and waterfront communities already face from crude oil transported by train in poorly designed railcars, and without adequate safeguards to prevent and respond to spills. A barge spill in the tidal Hudson would be difficult, if not impossible, to clean up without incurring damage to drinking-water resources and prime wildlife habitat, as well as fouling riverfronts all the way to New York City. While the Hudson already faces a massive volume of crude oil transport by rail and water for domestic use, Congress has lifted the ban on export of crude, potentially increasing the volume that could pass from Albany to New York Harbor.

At the same time, the noise and air-quality impacts of the anchorages could stall ongoing economic development projects on downtown waterfronts. They also could imperil the region's scenic splendor — imagine hiking to the top of a mountain only to gaze down upon a pileup of barges — as well as access to the river and the safety of those engaged in paddling, sailing and motorboating.

As it stands, this plan would be disastrous — allowing as many as 43 berths for tankers at the 10 locations, turning our bucolic river into an industrial storage facility. Leaders of environmental groups as well as many public officials — including mayors, county executives, and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer — have expressed alarm about the proposal and called for public hearings, which the Coast Guard plans to hold next spring. In the meantime, it is seeking public comments through Sept. 7 about the anchorages.

Scenic Hudson is committed to measures that ensure the safety of shipping crews on the Hudson.

But the river cannot be turned into an industrial parking lot for flotillas of crude oil tankers and barges at the risk of the region's economic and environmental health.

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55,000 gallons of gasoline spills into Susquehanna, effect on Lancaster County drinking water unclear



55,000 gallons of gasoline spills into Susquehanna, effect on Lancaster County drinking water unclear

    TOM KNAPP | Staff Writer 3 hrs ago (9)

A broken pipeline in Lycoming County on Friday dumped 55,000 gallons of gasoline into the Susquehanna River.

As the river, swollen with 6 to 8 inches of rain that fell overnight Thursday, rushes south, Lancaster County officials are gearing up to prevent contamination of the local water supply.

“With the amount that spilled, we certainly could see some impact on our intake along the Susquehanna River,” Charlotte Katzenmoyer, director of public works for Lancaster, said Friday afternoon. “We’ll continue to monitor it.”

“Certainly it’s something to be concerned about,” added Randy Gockley, director of the Lancaster Emergency Management Agency. “We don’t know yet the speed it will travel down the river.”

State officials said Friday the gasoline could reach the Lancaster area early Tuesday morning.
Friday morning breach

The Bureau of Emergency Operations and Resource Coordination, a department of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, issued an alert at 12:18 p.m. Friday.

The 8-inch pipeline was breached in Gamble Township, Lycoming County, at about 3 a.m. Friday, according to a statement from Sunoco Logistics, which shut down the line after detecting a drop in pressure.

The bureau said their “best guess” is that 1,300 barrels of product — approximately 55,000 gallons — spilled into Wallis Run, a tributary that flows into the Susquehanna.

Comparatively, an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds 660,430 gallons of water.

A response team from the Department of Environmental Protection is on site with local emergency responders, the bureau reported.

“Personnel are still having trouble accessing the break site to put eyes on it and get a better idea of the extent and volume due to flooding in the area,” according to the alert. “Please inform local water authorities of the potential contamination if they use the Susquehanna River as a water source.”

The breach was reportedly caused by heavy flooding in Lycoming County, which lies in the north-central region of Pennsylvania. Gockley said the area received 6 to 8 inches of rain.

“I’m sure they’re dealing with high velocity water flows because of the flooding,” he said. “My gut tells me it will take a few days to reach us, but I can’t say that for sure. This far downstream, it’s hard to know.”

The gasoline will be diluted as it travels downriver, he said. And it’s still possible, he said, that emergency responders farther north will be able to contain the spill before it gets this far.

“I trust the Department of Environmental Protection will keep us informed,” he said.
Limit the intake

Local municipalities that draw potable water from the Susquehanna should be able to offset the problem simply by shutting down water intake operations when the spill reaches the area, Gockley said.

“Until we get the timing, it’s hard to say,” he said. “But if they shut down the water intakes, and if they have their water reservoirs filled up, it should not impact on the county.”

Katzenmoyer said the state Department of Environmental Protection is studying the “time of travel” to pin down a timeline as the gasoline heads south.

According to a statement from DEP at 1:34 p.m. Friday, the spill will reach the Lancaster and Columbia regions about 92 hours from the time of the spill.

Pumps are operating at full capacity “to get our tanks and reservoir full in anticipation of having to shut down,” Katzenmoyer added. “Once we shut down, residents will not notice a difference.”

The city draws about 60 percent of its water from the Susquehanna, she said.

“We also have staff that will monitor the river,” Katzenmoyer said. “They will be able to see gasoline slicks as they arrive.”

Rick Levis, from the state Fish & Boat Commission, said with flooding it’s too early to tell what impact the spill will have on the river’s fish population.

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UPDATE: HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD AND LOVE ALL THE THINGS CLIMATE CAN’T CHANGE producer Deia Scholsberg was arrested for filming a climate change protest yesterday in North Dakota.

She has been held over 24 hours with no charges and will spend her second night in jail.

PLEASE SHARE this Reuters article about Deia’s arrest.  Documentary Filmmaker arrested at Canada – U.S. Pipeline Protest

And please consider contributing to the legal fund. Donate here. 

Yesterday 5 activists across the country shut down all the tar sands pipelines that transport oil from Canada into the United States. Their action was in support of the call for International Days of Prayer and Action for Standing Rock.

The science on climate change is telling us we must stop burning fossil fuels, especially carbon intensive sources like tar sands oil, but our government continues to support forms of extreme energy extraction like fracking for oil and gas, tar sands development and offshore drilling.

The activists called on President Obama “to use emergency powers to keep the pipelines closed and mobilize for the extraordinary shift away from fossil fuels now required to avert catastrophe.”

Deia was arrested for filming the protest in Wahallah, ND where an activist shut down TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline.

Arrest of journalists, filmmakers and others witnessing and reporting on citizen protests against fossil fuel infrastructure amid climate change is part of a worrisome, growing pattern. Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, was arrested last month for covering Native American-led protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The actress Shailene Woodley was arrested and jailed this week while leaving a protest at a construction site for the DAP. She was singled out, she was told by police, because she was well known and has 40,000 people watching her facebook page.

"Journalism is not a crime; it is a responsibility," said filmmaker Josh Fox about this pattern of arrests. "The actions of the North Dakota Police force are not just a violation of the climate, but a violation of the constitution."

Support democracy and a free press. Share Deia’s story.

Lots of gratitude and love,
The Let Go And Love Team

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If This Town Can #StopOilTrains -- Any Town Can


Ethan Buckner, Stand.earth Extreme Oil Campaigner

Yesterday night, the Benicia City Council voted to unanimously deny Valero’s proposed oil trains project. If built, 100-car trains carrying millions of gallons of toxic, explosive crude oil would have rolled through dozens of California communities every day en route to Valero’s refinery - endangering the 5.5 million Californians who live within a mile of the tracks (otherwise known as the oil train blast zone).

This decision came only hours after the Surface Transportation Board (STB) - a little-known federal agency that primarily handles disputes between railroads - affirmed the City’s right to deny Valero’s project. Buoyed by the STB’s decision and the tremendous, unceasing opposition to oil trains among Benicia residents, the council did the right thing and sided with the community over Big Oil.

Here are some key lessons from what happened last night:

  • Communities everywhere can say no to dangerous oil trains projects: The STB’s decision has impacts far beyond the borders of Benicia, or even California. It means that refinery communities across the US considering whether or not to grant oil train permits to Big Oil will have the freedom to say NO. For decision makers sitting on the fence, this means no more hiding behind federal pre-emption. You’re either for oil trains in your community, or you’re against them. 

  • Organizing gets the goods, every time: This hard-fought victory belongs to the incredible grassroots leaders of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community. They’ve been at the helm every step of the way - mobilizing neighbors, holding community forums, canvassing door-to-door and at farmers markets, and being present at every public hearing and council meeting to make sure decision makers knew residents were paying attention. This isn’t exactly glamorous work, and it’s often overlooked by funders, but it’s critical and needs ongoing support. 

  • Frontline leadership matters: This effort was not led by environmental groups. Stand.earth, Communities for a Better Environment, Sierra Club, NRDC, and other allies played a tremendous role, but that role was to support the needs identified by Benicia’s grassroots leaders. This meant that we in the environmental community were able to leverage our skills, resources, and technical expertise in a strategic manner that aligned with the deep local knowledge, experience, and strategy coming from the grassroots. 

  • Uprail organizing works: It wasn’t only the people of Benicia who made last night’s victory possible. Attorney General Kamala Harris weighed in. Residents, elected officials, first responders, and other allies in communities all along the rail routes organized and sent letters urging the Benicia City Council to do the right thing, as their decision would directly affect their communities too! In all, uprail communities from Davis, Roseville, Sacramento and beyond held rallies, brought busloads of residents to hearings and organized their own municipalities to pressure the City of Benicia to do the right thing, and that had a major impact in both the Planning Commission and City Council’s decisions.

  • Anything is possible: There were countless times during the past three-plus years when we thought Valero was sure to win. “The City Council is too conservative,” we’d say to ourselves, or “Valero just has too much power in the City, it’s a refinery town after all.” But by being persistent, continuing to mobilize residents, gather petition signatures, show up at hearings, organize along the rail routes, write letters to the editor, and do all of the nitty-gritty work of a campaign, we were able to succeed. If Benicia, a town economically dominated by the Valero refinery, can stand up to Big Oil, any town can!

The fight to #StopOilTrains and protect our communities and our climate is not over. The tide is turning in our direction, and we will continue to build this movement until every drop of extreme oil is off the rails and stays in the ground where it belongs.

Help us continue the fight by signing the petition to President Obama to ban dangerous oil trains.

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Ruling by Little-Known Federal Agency Paves Way for Communities to Say No to Oil-by-Rail


By Justin Mikulka • Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - 03:58

The community of Benicia, [California,] in the crosshairs of history, made one of those decisions that will make a difference for the country. They stood up and said the safety of our communities matters.” 

That was Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor talking to The Sacramento Bee about the vote by the Benicia City Council to deny a new oil-by-rail facility that oil company Valero was seeking.

But that vote would have been meaningless if not for a recent decision on September 20 by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) that gave Benicia the legal authority to have some say over what happens within its borders. 

Created in 1996, the STB is a federal agency which serves as “an independent adjudicatory and economic-regulatory agency charged by Congress with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers.” 

The STB decision helped clear up some of the gray areas around the issue of “pre-emption,” in which railroads are not subject to any local or state authorities or laws because local and state laws are “pre-empted” by federal law.

In 2013 the STB ruled in favor of Norfolk Southern Railway Company, saying once again that federal pre-emption of state laws protected the rail company from lawsuits filed in the state of Virginia. 

The basic idea of pre-emption is that for interstate commerce to work, the federal government needs to be the sole regulator of railroads. 

As we have reported previously on DeSmog, pre-emption can effectively place rail companies above local law. This has led to developments such as the case of Grafton, Massachusetts, where the construction of the largest propane transloading facility in the state occurred without the need for local approval, construction permits, or even environmental review. 

Regarding the Grafton facility, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting wrote that, “Residents were dumbfounded: The location was in the middle of a residential neighborhood, less than 2,000 feet from an elementary school and atop the town’s water supply.”

This above-the-law approach has served rail companies well. And until the recent STB decision, it also appeared to protect oil companies who were moving oil by rail.

But this latest decision about Benicia appears to deliver a real blow to oil companies when it comes to oil-by-rail transfer facilities. Since the companies who receive the oil from the rail cars aren’t railroads, the STB ruled that they are not protected by federal pre-emption. In the decision the STB refers to Valero as a “a noncarrier” which is why the STB ruled they are not able to claim pre-emption. 

This allowed Benicia to say no to an oil-by-rail facility in their community. And it has also changed the discussion about this industry as a whole.

San Luis Obispo County, California, has now delayed further the decision about a new oil-by-rail facility in order to consider the latest STB ruling. 

Ethan Buckner was one of the organizers for environmental advocacy group Stand, which was working to stop the Benicia facility.  

This is a victory for the right of communities to say no to refineries’ dangerous oil train projects. The federal government has said once and for all that there is nothing in federal law that prevents cities from denying these oil companies’ dangerous rail projects,” Buckner said. “The oil industry keeps telling communities they have no right to say no to oil trains, but this ruling once and for all refutes this.”

Jackie Prange was one of the lawyers working on the Benicia case for the Natural Resources Defense Council and explained the potential impact of the STB decision to the San Francisco Chronicle.  

We’re pleased with the decision and the implications it will have across the country,” said Prange. “This issue is live in a number of sites across the country. This is definitely a decision that I think cities in other states will be looking to.” 

They are definitely paying attention in San Luis Obispo County, as well as in Albany, New York.

Albany is the largest oil-by-rail hub on the East Coast.

Opponents of its oil trains recently had cause for celebration. On September 16, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the two companies operating oil-by-rail facilities at the Port of Albany would now be required to undergo full environmental reviews before the agency would renew the companies' permits. 

Chris Amato is a lawyer for Earthjustice who has been working on this issue for years. He believes the STB decision supports what Earthjustice has been saying all along about Global Companies, which owns one of Albany's oil-by-rail facilities. 

The decision by the Surface Transportation Board confirms what we have been saying since 2014: that Global's claim that state regulation of their operations is pre-empted by federal railroad law is simply wrong,” Amato explained to DeSmog. “Global can no longer attempt to shield their operations from scrutiny under their flawed legal theory.”

Opponents of the Albany oil-by-rail operations have been asking the state to step in for years, but the state has also hidden behind the issue of federal pre-emption. In 2014 the Albany Times Union reported that “Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been deflecting calls for the state to block the trains, saying rail transportation is controlled by the federal government, not the state.”

It would appear that the STB ruling negates New York’s current position and offers an option for the state to have authority over oil-by-rail facilities in Albany. 

While the amount of oil moving by rail is roughly half of what it was two years ago, that is mostly due to the current low price of oil. And it hasn’t stopped oil companies' continued efforts to build out more oil-by-rail infrastructure. 

Meanwhile, oil trains continue to derail and explode, as happened in Mosier, Oregon, in June, and opposition to the oil-by-rail industry continues to grow.

This STB decision appears to be a game-changer in the oil-by-rail story. With it, perhaps now more politicians will agree that “the safety of our communities matter” — much more so than oil company profits.

Main image credit: Justin Mikulka

Oil tank care behind a fence with sign reading 'Think first'

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Some History of the Pre-PAUSE Oil Train Fight

In the six months between Lac-Megantic and when PAUSE was launched, a number of important initiatives were undertaken by others:
1) Persistance by very concerned citizens brought about an Albany Common Council Public Safety Committee meeting (July 29, 2013), at which Albany Fire Chief Forezzi and Port of Albany Executive Director Hendricks insisted the oil trains were safe. One Common Council member stated that Lac-Megantic was a "fluke" and such an incident was not likely to to happen in Albany.
2) The ineffectiveness and unsuitability of the Albany County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) Chair was exposed after he stated publicly that the oil trains were "as safe as your car in your driveway."
3) Albany County Legislators were contacted, leading to the LEPC Chair being replaced by Sheriff Apple.
4) New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (NYSDHSES) officials were contacted by phone on September 13, 2013 and asked what plans the agency had in place in the event of an oil train disaster. DHSES officials stated they were unaware of the existence of the oil trains. NYSDHSES did not respond to subsequent e-mails on the subject of oil train risks on September 19 and later.
5) A September 19, 2013, e-mail to NYSDHSES expressed  concern over the oil trains and stated, in part:
"...initial research indicates that jurisdiction over these (oil train) activities is fragmented. We have not been able to locate an environmental impact statement or risk assessment that contains a plan to manage risks related to the oil transshipment. While there is general agreement... that the Coast Guard is responsible for managing risks on the water, there is very little information or agreement over which agencies have jurisdiction over landside activities and the risks they pose. We have been referred repeatedly to DHSES as the government agency responsible for managing regional risks associated with the oil transshipment.
We're looking for answers to the following questions:
a) What is the extent of DHSES responsibility to manage (through plans, risk assessments, coordination) the risks associated with rail transport of oil to the Port of Albany for transshipment. What are the geographical and jurisdictional limits of DHSES responsibility?
b) Would the DHSES have any responsibility for managing risks associated with rail transport of oil down the Hudson Valley to refineries? If not, who has that responsibility?
c) What steps have been taken to assess potential risks associated with transshipment of oil through highly populated areas and through the port? For example, is there a risk assessment that plans for worst case scenarios? Is there an assessment of what the Albany Fire Department can respond to  and what is beyond its capabilities?
d) Does DHSES coordinate risk management related to these industrial activities? In the case of a significant emergency, such as a large industrial accident and fire, who would coordinate accident management?
Who is responsible for cooperation with Federal agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to insure that railroads moving into and through the region are complying with federal regulations."
Once again, NYSDHSES did not respond to subsequent e-mails asking important questions on the subject of oil train risks.
4) NYSDHSES officials were contacted and asked to put the oil trains on the agenda of the November 21 meeting of the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission, scheduled for 1:00 PM in the First Floor Conference Room of Building 7A at the Harriman Campus. The November 21 meeting was cancelled at the last minute.
5) The public (including Times Union reporter Brian Nearing) were prohibited from being present at much of the December 18, 2013 meeting of the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission due to an executive session being declared by NYSDHSES Director Jerome Hauser.
6) Global Partners made an application to the City of Albany Planning Board for approval of an oil heating facility which would allow transport of bitumin (presumably tar sands) into Albany. The heating plant proposal was presented at the first meeting on the issue with the Planning Board, with Albany consulting engineers Hershberg & Hershberg making the presentation for Global. Albany consulting engineers Clough Harbour & Associates prepared the engineering work and drawings for the project.
The second meeting on the issue was scheduled for Dec 19, 2013 and an affirmative vote on the matter was anticipated. A letter to the Planning Board was prepared by Sierra Club's Roger Downs and an attorney from another environmental group. Downs was unable to attend the December 19 meeting. 
A messenger was dispatched and the letter from Downs was read at the December 19 meeting, explaining the lack of the legally-required environmental assessments for the proposed heating plant project. The messenger added one short sentence to Downs' letter: "If you approve this project, you're likely to be sued."
The tar sands heating proposal was immediately tabled by the City of Albany Planning Board.
Dec 24, 2013 Mayor Kathy Sheehan received a campaign donation check of $500 from Global's consulting engineer, Dan Hershberg.
Beginning in January 2014, other groups (including the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Council) were  contacted to warn them of the dangers of the oil train, and to ask them to oppose oil trains in New York State.
In January of 2014, $200 was provided by Albany-based environmental group Save the Pine Bush to cover printing costs for the formation of PAUSE.
Tim Truscott empirestate@att.net
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recalculating the climate math article


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This video of 3,000 people breaking free from fossil fuels will send a shiver down your spine.

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Kayakers protest Pilgrim Pipeline on Hudson in Albany


More than 50 environmental activists paddled kayaks and canoes along the Hudson River Saturday, blew plastic whistles and affixed signs to their watercraft that read "No Pilgrim Oil Pipelines" in protest of a proposed crude oil pipeline.

They called their awareness-raising event a People Over Pipelines Flotilla.

The pipeline would run under the river between the ports of Albany and Rensselaer and 170 miles along the state Thruway. It would be a dual pipeline, one carrying Bakken crude south from the Port of Albany to New Jersey refineries and the other carrying refined oil north back to the Port of Albany and then through dual pipelines under the river to storage tanks on the Rensselaer side.

Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings has argued that moving the volatile Bakken crude by pipeline would be safer and more environmentally friendly than moving it by rail or barge.

The flotilla participants vociferously disagreed, with chants of "Water Is Life!" and a large banner that read "Keep It In The Ground."

The event was organized by a grassroots group, People of Albany United for Safe Energy, known as PAUSE, which grew out of a meeting of progressive folks at the Honest Weight Food Co-op about three years ago.

"This is a terrible idea that would bring more bomb trains to Albany," said Tina Lieberman, of Albany, a member of PAUSE and the Sierra Club who works for the state Education Department. "We need to stop the Pilgrim pipelines. We don't want Albany to become "Oil-bany" and the center of fracked crude in the Northeast."

The Port of Albany has become a major transshipment point for Bakken crude oil, which is delivered to terminals operated by GlobalPartners and Buckeye Partners to be forwarded to refineries along the East Coast.

Lieberman paddled with Meaghan Hurley and their two-person kayak carried a large Mother Earth flag. "We need to break free of fossil fuels and more oil pipelines takes us in the wrong direction. If those pipes leak, think of how badly they will pollute the Hudson," Hurley said.

Hurley wore a T-shirt that proclaimed "Every Day Is Earth Day." She recently graduated from The College of Saint Rose, where she was president of the school's Environmental Club.

Before they set out from the Corning Preserve boat launch — as attendees of the Albany Jazz Festival's rain site beneath an 787 overpass looked on — the protesters recited a pledge led by organizer Jeannette Rice.

"I will not trespass or vandalize any property," she said, and the demonstrators repeated her words.

The flotilla was monitored by state Department of Environmental Conservation police officers in a large power boat and on two personal watercraft, as well as the Coast Guard cutter Wire.

"We don't want to impact what you're doing. We just want to help you exercise your rights safely," said Coast Guard Executive Petty Officer Owen Earl, who was cheered.

Jeremy Cherson, campaign advocacy coordinator of the Riverkeeper, has been organizing opposition to the proposed Pilgrim pipelines. Seven of nine cities in the path of the pipeline, including Albany and Rensselaer, have passed resolutions opposing the project. Developers have thus far secured only one permit of dozens required from state and federal agencies, Cherson said. "It gives us confidence that this pipeline will not be built," he said. Opposition forces are buttressed by the Transportation Corporation Law of 1909 that gives cities and villages veto power over oil pipelines, Cherson said, but legal challenges are likely.

"If the people will lead, the leaders with follow," said Carole Nemore, of Delmar, a retired policy analyst on environmental issues for Senate Democrats. She was joined by longtime activist Susan Weber, of Loudonville, a PAUSE founder and retired DEC lawyer. The two women met through state service in the mid-1980s.

"We're very concerned about the impact of oil transport on the residents of Albany's South End and on communities along the Hudson River," she said. "The only way to slow down climate change is to get us off fossil fuels."

The youngest participant was 7-year-old Violet Kellogg, who paddled a solo kayak alongside her father, Scott Kellogg, educational director at the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center in Albany.

"She's a good paddler, so we came to support the flotilla," her father said.

pgrondahl@timesunion.com • 518-454-5623 • @PaulGrondahl

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Tomorrow: People Over Pipelines Flotilla!

flotilla of kayakers

Enjoy a beautiful day protecting the Hudson River and Front Line communities from the dangers of Fossil Fuels.

Stop the Pilgrim Pipeline. Stop the Bomb Trains. Protect Health and Safety:
*Camping arrangements at Nine Mile Farm and Schodack State Park
*Food and Fun and Community building
*Green Businesses will be on hand to answer questions
* Music and entertainment

RSVP at the PAUSE FB Event page for more info

Corning Preserve Boat Launch

Green Jobs, Health, and Safety Community Picnic
Island Creek Park

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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.