Oil transportation company warns state not to overstep

Capital New York | May 22, 2014 | Column by Scott Waldman

ALBANY—The company that wants to bring heavy crude oil through New York and down the Hudson River has warned state officials not to overstep their bounds while considering an air permit.

A Global Partners storage facility. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

In a letter sent to the Department of Environmental Conservation last week, a lawyer for Global Partners asserts that the state is using the community's concern over the rise of oil trains to operate outside of its authority to regulate air quality. Last year, Global proposed a crude heating facility at the Port of Albany that will be used to transfer oil to barges and ships from trains.

“The concerns over rail transportation should not be used to serve as an indirect attempt to regulate activities outside the jurisdiction of the Department,” attorney Dean Sommer wrote. “The concerns over rail transportation should not be confused with a scientific evaluation of the 2013 air permit modification request.”

The D.E.C. announced in a statement on Wednesday that it will extend the public comment period for a fourth time, to August 1, to further review Global's response and to see if more information is needed.

“DEC will continue to work with community leaders to coordinate on any further requests deemed necessary to supplement the information Global provided. DEC will continue its dialogue with the community to ensure all questions are answered fully and objectively.”

The company also admits for the first time that it wants to bring in bitumen crude, which is another term for the oil produced in the tar sands region of Western Canada. That is the type of heavy crude that the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline is supposed to handle and bringing it into New York will create a second virtual pipeline of crude from one of the world's largest oil fields. Two facilities at the Port of Albany, including one operated by Global, have been approved to handle up to 2.8 billion gallons of crude annually. The trains that now move through the region, which are 120 cars long, are carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota.

In the letter, Sommer objects to the use of the phrase “Bakken crude” and “tar sands crude” and says they could come from a variety of regions, not just the formations commonly known by those names. Environmentalists, local elected leaders and state officials are particularly concerned about heavy bitumen crude because it sinks in water and would be nearly impossible to clean up if spilled on the Hudson River.

The state sent a demand to Global in March, asking for a response to 29 questions about its plans for a crude oil heating facility in Albany. The state sought information on the type of crude, spill and emergency response capability as well as the insurance coverage. Global sent a response to the D.E.C. on May 15 that claims air emissions at the facility will not have an adverse effect on the community.

The letter asserts that state officials have already given the project a thorough review and that any further consideration of the air quality permit would be “political” and not scientific. State officials were days away from giving the project final sign off in December, when community and political resistance intensified and the public comment period was lengthened. The state initially made a negative declaration for an environmental review—meaning it decided one wasn't needed—but in March referred to that as an “interim” step and said it could still be subject to a lengthy review.

Global's lawyer claims that an “interim negative declaration” does not exist.

“The reference to an 'Interim Negative Declaration' in your letter has no legal meaning or effect,” Sommer wrote. “This is mentioned solely to make clear that the rule of law, not political considerations, must prevail in this process and to avoid any ambiguity that the Department's issuance of the November 2013 Negative Declaration was, without qualification, final and binding.”

The letter repeatedly refers to the company's willingness to work with state officials, even though it takes a more aggressive tone than previous correspondence. It says state and federal inspectors have conducted more than 30 inspections so far in 2014. The company claims to have sufficient insurance and crude handling capabilities though it does not go into great detail about either. It also repeatedly claims that the state is only considering an air quality permit for the crude heating facility and does not have authority to limit the project based on other considerations.

Global asserts that the state's plan to monitor air quality near a public housing project would be tainted because it is also located near a highway as well as other industrial facilities. Global has previously asserted that its projects near the Port will improve the air quality of the public housing project because it would eliminate diesel trucks that once used the facility.

Global has already threatened to sue Albany County, which has imposed its own moratorium on the expansion of crude handling capabilities at the Port.

Albany County officials ignored the threats and plan to conduct a health study of the project.

http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2014/05/8545836/oil-transportation-company-warns-state-not-overstep

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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.