Green groups say this is Cuomo's 'Keystone moment'

The Legislative Gazette | April 16, 2014 | Column by Kelly Fay

As the state considers two projects that would expand the presence of crude oil, local and national environmental groups are demanding a comprehensive study and public review be conducted by the industry to determine the safety and health impact of increased oil transportation in New York. 

	shadow Protesters outside the governor's office on Tuesday. Photo by Tiffany Brooks.

Global Partners LP — a Fortune 500-ranked company specializing in the transportation of crude oil — has proposed expanding operations at a facility in the Port of Albany to heat crude oil and redeveloping an old industrial shipyard in New Windsor into a rail station for carrying oil. The plan would, for the first time in New York, allow the import and heating of Canadian tar sands oil — the oil is exceptionally thick, requiring it be heated before use. The material would then be shipped on the Hudson River.

"This is Gov. Cuomo's Keystone moment," Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York Peter Iwanowicz said, referring to a pending decision from President Barack Obama on whether to permit a tar sands oil pipeline from Canada into the country. "For two years under the Department of Environmental Conservation's watch, the oil industry has laid the groundwork to turn New York into a primary route to market for some of the dirtiest and most dangerous oil on earth … nationwide, eyes are watching the governor because of the destruction tar sands would have on our environment."

Advocates of clean energy have criticized the increased role of New York as a transportation hub for Bakkan crude oil from North Dakota, Montana and Canada, saying there has not been proper oversight and the state should invest in renewable resources instead. Activists gathered in the Capitol Tuesday in hazmat suits, which they say will become necessary attire if crude oil continues to be carried through New York without the necessary precautions.

In late January of this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an Executive Order requesting a thorough review by four state agencies of the state's spill prevention, response rules, and programs regulating the transportation of crude oil and petroleum products.

Advocates of alternative energy also cited the use of DOT 111 rail cars for oil transportation as presenting significant safety concerns — the National Transportation Safety Board has noted a number of structural flaws and inadequacies with the cars, which according to a 2012 study from the department account for nearly 70 percent of tank cars transporting petroleum products throughout the country.

According to Sandy Steubing of People of Albany United for Safe Energy, the tank cars were originally designed in the 1960s for the transportation of non-hazardous materials such as corn syrup and molasses.

Cuomo noted the federal Department of Transportation is updating safety procedures and regulations for the transportation of flammable liquids, but said New York should take immediate action to develop their own approach. At least two major derailments of trains carrying crude oil occurred last year, including one in Quebec which killed 47 people.

The governor has extended the public comment period for the projects through June 2, and a report from five state agencies — the Department of Environmental Conservation; Department of Transportation; Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services; Department of Health; and Energy Research and Development Authority — is due April 30.

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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.