Feds raise doubts on state review of Albany oil terminal air pollution

Times Union | May 6, 2013 | Brian Nearing

Regulators question emissions figures used by state to review oil plan

Federal environmental regulators are challenging the accuracy of air pollution figures used by the state to review a planned crude oil heating plant at the Port of Albany.

Global Oil Company tanks on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at the Port of Albany in Albany, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union) | Buy this photo

Global Oil Company tanks on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at the Port of Albany in Albany, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union) | Buy this photo

Environmental Protection Agency officials in New York City have ordered the state Department of Environmental Conservation to revise a proposed air pollution permit for Global Companies after expressing doubts on pollution levels reported by Global and accepted by DEC, according to an April 28 EPA letter obtained by the Times Union.

Global imports crude oil into the port via rail and is seeking a state air pollution permit that would allow it to run a plant with seven boilers to heat crude oil to make it easier to pump out of rail tank cars and into storage tanks for later transfer to barges headed down the Hudson River to coastal refineries.

The company has been importing crude for some two years without a heating plant, leading some to speculate that Global may be planning to import Canadian tar sands oil, a thicker type of crude that must be heated in cold weather in order to be pumped. Current oil imports are from the Bakken fields of North Dakota, which produce a lighter crude that can be more easily pumped.

EPA Permitting Section Chief Steven Riva ordered DEC to make numerous revisions to Global's proposed air pollution permit that would allow Global to run the heating plant. The project has drawn public opposition, and DEC recently announced that it would be installing temporary air pollution sensors around the port that will be operated by citizen volunteers. DEC is still reviewing Global's permit application.

Riva questioned DEC's findings, based on Global measurements, that the expansion would produce 39.59 tons per year of emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. That is just under a 40 tons per year limit that would require installation of "lowest achieveable emission" pollution controls, or require the company to obtain offsets reducing the equivalent amount of pollution elsewhere.

Currently, the Global terminal has the capacity to emit 147 tons annually of petrochemical VOCs, a level that kicks in federal requirements under the Nonattainment New Source Review program (NNSR) for control of ozone. Those requirements include measurements for another petrochemical, nitrogen oxide, or NOx, that forms ozone, which in turn forms smog in the atmosphere.

The DEC draft permit, or any other DEC reports, contains no NOx emission records for Global, according to Riva's letter.

He wrote, "It is unclear to us whether ... this proposed modification (for Global) was conducted in accordance with the provisions of the DEC NNSR regulations."

On Tuesday, EPA regional spokeswoman Mary Mears said federal regulators want "clarification on several issues" meant to bring clarity to DEC records "specifically in regards to emissions factors and related calculations." She said EPA has also "suggested monitoring initiatives" to obtain real-time pollution data.

Such steps will "provide necessary information so that the basis of the permit decision is transparent and readily accessible to the public, and the permit record provides adequate support for the permit decision," said Mears.

"DEC will make no final determination on pending permit applications until we receive more information about the company's operations and only after the impacted communities are provided meaningful opportunities to learn about and comment on the proposals," said DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis. "In addition, DEC initiated an air monitoring screening program that will determine a baseline of current air quality conditions and will help to determine if further sampling or enhanced inspections of Port of Albany facilities are necessary."

Environmental groups said the EPA letter showed a lack of faith in the state review of Global's operations so far.

"This validates the claims that we have been making all along. DEC is too willing to accept Global's claims without making attempts to verify those claims," said Chris Amato, an attorney with EarthJustice, an environmental advocacy group. He was also DEC deputy commissioner for natural resources from 2007 to 2011.

Added Pete Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and a former interim DEC commissioner, "By this letter, EPA is telling DEC that their work on Global is not complete and that it is not convinced that Global's emissions are what Global is telling you they are."

Riva also noted that EPA learned Global's emissions records are no longer kept at the DEC regional headquarters in Rotterdam, where such pollution permits are routinely reviewed and filed. "As we understand from DEC staff, the files that may contain such information are no longer with Region 4, as these files are with the Central Office staff" at the DEC headquarters on Broadway, he wrote.

[email protected]518-454-5094@Bnearing10


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commented 2014-05-07 21:48:20 -0400 · Flag
I think I know a lot about this issue but Mr. Nearing never fails to educate.
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.