A crude awakening in Bethlehem

WNYT | May 9, 2014 | Column by Dan Levy

BETHLEHEM - There are more signs that the movement to better regulate or eliminate oil trains from our community is growing. Several dozen people gathered at the Bethlehem Town Library Friday night to embark on a journey to eradicate oil trains, a trip that most people agree will be an uphill journey.

Now that the federal government is calling the transport of crude oil by rail an "imminent hazard" to the public, activists feel they're gaining momentum.

"It's an explosive issue and people are paying attention," says Sandy Steubing, of People of Albany United for Safe Energy -- or PAUSE.

Steubing's grassroots organization is determined to eliminate oil tankers, like the ones that can be seen across the Capital Region, especially in the middle of I-787 in downtown Albany and at the Port of Albany.

Along that path, graphic pictures that have been widely seen on both television and the internet, like the ones from Lac-Megantic, Quebec where 47 people died last summer in a train derailment and explosion, and pictures like the ones from Lynchburgh, Virginia last month, where 30,000 gallons of crude spilled into the James River, have become persuasive reminders that oil trains can be unsafe and unpredictable at any speed.

"It's of horrific value," Steubing says, "We don't want to see it happen at all. We hope it won't happen again. It probably will."

"We want people to realize that that is the risk<" says Vivian Kornegay, an Albany common council member. "I wish they didn't exist but unfortunately they do and they're valuable to what we're trying to do."

To derail the oil trains, some people suggested there needs to be a crusade against capitalism.

"The thing that is kind of clear is that many of the capitalists who are in power, from Goldman Sachs to the energy companies are continuing to prosecute disaster," says Andor Skotnes, a Sage College history professor. "That has to be resisted."

"We have the power to stop this machine of corporate capitalism," says Chrys Ballerano, of Albany, "We really need to do that if we want to pass on an intact environment."

Meanwhile, retired CSX rail worker Jon Flanders says part of the problem, as he sees it, is that there are too many understaffed railroad crews, too many over-tired and over-stressed employees, and too few rail inspectors.

"There are all these issues that are driven by the need to make profits that workers confront every day on the job," Flanders says.

Global Partners, which operates a large rail yard at the Port of Albany, announced last week that beginning on June 1st, it will voluntarily refuse to accept the outdated DOT 111 tankers arriving at its terminals.

Meanwhile, federal and state authorities continue to mull over new safety regulations.


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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.