Global wants judge to hear Port of Albany crude oil heating plan

Times Union | July 2, 2015 | Column by Brian Nearing

Corporate attorney urges DEC to reinstate its no impact ruling

Global Partners in the Port of Albany on Wednesday July 30, 2014 in Albany, N.Y. (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union)

A Massachusetts-based energy company wants to make its case before a judge for a crude oil heating plant at the Port of Albany.

Oil terminal owner Global Partners claims the state Department of Environmental Conservation has tied its plans in bureaucratic knots for two years to avoid making a controversial decision linked to a surge of crude oil trains passing through the state.

Global lawyers demanded the agency reinstate an earlier ruling that the heating plant would have no significant environmental impact in a letter to DEC this week.

The facility would handle rail shipments of heavier crudes like Canadian tar sands oil feared by some opponents because of its potential for water and other pollution in an oil train wreck.

Global first applied to DEC for a federally required air pollution permit for the project in June 2013. As public concern mounted, particularly among neighbors in Albany's South End neighborhood, DEC extended deadlines for public comment seven times.

On the final day for a ruling, DEC withdrew its initial environmental decision, sending the project back for a more detailed environmental review.

"These actions prejudice Global for the department's reluctance to directly face the difficult and unrelated political controversy raised by the transportation and distribution of crude oil in New York," wrote Dean Sommer, a lawyer with the Albany firm of Young/Sommer LLC. "The department's actions are rooted in politics, not law, engineering, science or fact."

Should DEC decline to restore its initial ruling, Global demands a chance to present its case to a state administrative law judge, which would allow its lawyers to "cross-examine (DEC) staff."

Tuesday was the deadline for Global to react to the DEC decision to withdraw its environmental ruling.

Sommer also wrote that "DEC was well aware from the beginning" that Global planned to use the plant to handle "heavier crude oils."

He did not address tar sands oil specifically, a thicker type of crude that must be heated during winter months so it can be pumped from railroad tank cars into land-based storage tanks, and then into barges or tankers on the Hudson River.

This type of oil is also called diluted bitumen, or dilbit. It is heavier than traditional crude oil, and sinks in water.

In citing environmental concerns, DEC also raised issues of potential dilbit spills into the Hudson and the potential difficulty of cleanups.

Sommer wrote that oil spill issues are outside the DEC air pollution permit for the oil heating plant, and planning for such spills is a federal, not state, responsibility. He wrote DEC cannot use state law as a "back door" to regulate federal issues.

Calls to the DEC seeking comment on Global's claims were not returned Thursday. A call to Scott Solomon, a spokesman for Global, was not returned.

In May, DEC cited "significant proposed project changes and new information submitted" by Global after DEC's initial ruling that the project would have no significant environmental impact.

The agency said "significant adverse impacts must be fully analyzed" because of the nearby 137-unit Ezra Prentice Homes, a city-owned housing project on South Pearl Street.

DEC said it received 19,000 comments on Global that raised significant issues, including how the heating plant would meet emission standards for hydrogen sulfide, an invisible, poisonous gas that smells like rotten eggs.

DEC added Global "failed to provide sufficient information" on potential increased emissions of the gas.

Last year, Sierra Club Atlantic ChapterEzra Prentice Tenants Homes Association and Center for Biological Diversity sued DEC over its initial ruling that the Global project would have no environmental impact.

The lawsuit remains on hold, said Chris Amato, attorney for EarthJustice. It will be rendered moot if the DEC ruling stands, he added.

[email protected] • 518-454-5094 • @Bnearing10

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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.