E.P.A. reproves state for handling of crude shipping permits

Capital New York | May 6, 2014 | Column by Scott Waldman

ALBANY—The federal Environmental Protection Agency issued an unusual rebuke to state officials today for approving crude oil-handling permits at the Albany port based on a company's unverified claims.

The state signed off on an early stage of the application for Global Partners' proposed oil-handling facility based on air pollution data that may be three times lower than actual emissions, according to a review by the E.P.A. The state Department of Environmental Conservation agreed with Global's claims that its proposed boiler facility would not increase air emissions or pollution significantly enough to warrant further environmental review, but held off on final approval after public scrutiny intensified on the project.

In a letter sent to the state Department of Environmental Conservation on April 28, Steven Riva, chief of the permitting section for air programs at the E.P.A, took state officials to task for signing off on a project without adequately verifying Global's pollution claims were valid. The letter orders the state to restart the approval process based on verifiable data, which would require a more thorough review.

"[W]e recommend that the facility should provide a discussion to clarify the calculation method that was used for determination of the project emission potential," wrote Riva, in a detailed memo to an air pollution control engineer at the state D.E.C.

D.E.C. spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the project is under review and that it has not received any approvals. She said the state was collaborating with the federal government to review Global's permit application and said the letter was not a rebuke.

"It is a collaborative effort between D.E.C. and E.P.A. to evaluate potential emissions from the proposed permit modification," she said. "This will result in a protective regulatory approach for the Global facility."

The facility is located next to one of Albany's poorest neighborhoods, which has high rates of asthma. State officials are currently conducting air monitoring near the facility.

The E.P.A. believes the crude-heating facility needs to be subject to more review. State officials have said they are now reviewing all of Global's permits, going back years, to make sure they are not based on false claims. But the D.E.C. has not yet required a more thorough environmental impact review for the state.

Global wants to heat heavy crude oil at the facility, which would allow it to begin transporting tar sands oil from Western Canada. That could be a significant new source of income for the Fortune 500 company, particularly if the Keystone XL pipeline is not approved by the Obama administration.

The project had met a series of state approvals and was just days from a final sign-off late last year, when local scrutiny increased and the public hearing was extended.

In application documents obtained by Capital, an environmental engineering company hired by Global claimed that “no potential adverse environmental impacts” would affect the community if crude oil handling was expanded because it would eliminate the need for the fleet of diesel trucks that previously supplied the facility.

“In fact, the project will likely result in environmental benefits for residents of the area,” wrote Amelia Leonard, an environmental specialist for Ingalls & Associates.

That's a claim D.E.C. officials have made in public meetings with residents who live near the facility, said Chris Amato, a former assistant commissioner for natural resources at the D.E.C. who is now an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group. He said the letter really underscores that the state “totally jumped the gun” in issuing a permit for the expansion.

“It's very disturbing when the department that is supposed to be the regulator is just repeating what the company is saying without any analysis,” he said.

The state has sent a series of questions to Global, asking the Massachusetts-based company for more information on its insurance liability, the types of crude it wants to import and planned spill responses.

The state issued a report last week that calls on the crude-by-rail industry to provide a more thorough risk analysis, to remove dissolved gases before shipment and to develop a web-based system that tracks trains carrying hazardous material in real time. Albany County has placed its own moratorium on an expansion of crude oil handling by Global until a health study can be completed.

On Tuesday, state officials held an emergency live-fire drill at the port to prepare responders to handle crude oil fires and explosions.

You can read the entire memo here


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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.