Albany mayor hits state on oil-project regulation

Capital New York | August 13, 2014 | Column by Scott Waldman

ALBANY—The state relied heavily on data submitted by a private crude oil transporter in determining the environmental impact of a proposed boiler facility in the Port of Albany, Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan contends in a new letter.

Sheehan. (City of Albany Mayor’s Office)

Calling the state Department of Environmental Conservation's record on enforcement "toothless," Sheehan is now requesting a more extensive environmental review of the project, which is being pursued by Global Partners.

"In our view, the record developed to date relies on unsubstantiated statements of the applicant, misapplies relevant city adopted plans and fails to include the city's input," she says.

Sheehan also contends the state may have violated the law when it approved a series of infrastructure projects at the port that now allow for 2.8 billion gallons of crude to flow through New York every year.

“There is no analysis of the overall 2.8 billion gallons per year that may arrive at the Port of Albany and associated overall potential significant adverse environmental impacts,” she wrote. “NYSDEC should examine the cumulative impacts of these projects in a more comprehensive manner.”

Last week, state officials admitted that they were not independently tracking the number of oil trains that travel through New York. They rely on the industry to self-police, though Global Partners was recently caught bringing almost six times more crude to an Oregon facility than state permits allowed.

The boiler project, which heats train cars so that dense crude can be offloaded on to ships and barges, would effectively create a second virtual pipeline-by-rail through the state. The state signed off on an earlier stage of the proposal when it determined that the project would not cause environmental harm and that it did not need a full review.

But Sheehan said the state has approved a series of projects without considering their overall environmental effect on air pollution and crude risk. Sheehan, echoing community activists and environmental groups, asked for the state to reverse its initial finding that the project did not need further environmental review. Other elected leaders, including Albany County Executive Dan McCoy have already asked the state to conduct a full environmental review of the proposed boiler project under the state's Supplement Environmental Quality Review Act. A full SEQRA review would significantly delay the project and open it up to legal challenges.

“There comes a point in time when multiple changes to a project cumulatively become so significant and numerous that a project evolves into an entirely new project or action warranting a completely new consideration under SEQRA,” she wrote. “Here, the action has undergone several significant changes (both in number and magnitude) over the past several years, many of which appear to have slipped under the SEQERA radar screen, and when considered together depict an entirely different and new project that has not been fully assessed pursuant to SEQRA.”

The letter represents one of Sheehan's strongest positions to date on the influx of oil trains into Albany, which has become a national hub for the Bakken crude oil being fracked in North Dakota. The boiler project was close to final state approval, but a final decision has been delayed multiple times. D.E.C. Commissioner Joe Martens recently extended the public hearing once again until September 30.

McCoy has already imposed a moratorium on expansion of crude handling at the port and is conducting an independent health study that is more aggressive than any state effort to date.

The boiler facility proposed in Albany is among the more significant crude oil shipping projects proposed in the nation. It would open up the East Coast, and the Hudson River, to heavy tar sands crude oil. About 160,000 barrels a day of Bakken crude travel through Albany. Dozens of train cars are stored close to a public housing project and the odor of crude lingers in the air near the facility.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction

@PAUSEnergy tweeted this page. 2014-08-15 17:04:50 -0400
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.