N.Y. has power over rail transport of oil

Times Union  |  Friday, September 5, 2014  |  By Susan Weber, Commentary

Every energy choice has its risks and problems. But the risks of continuing reliance on fossil fuels — ever more difficult to access, hazardous to process and transport, and harmful to use — have become unacceptable.

Even though the DOT-111 "bomb trains" carrying highly flammable Bakken crude through our state were declared unsafe by the federal government in 1991, more than 20 years ago, nothing has been done to end their use. Recently, the federal DOT declared rail transport of crude in these tankers an imminent hazard under 49 USC 5102(5). The solution proposed is to "phase out" the DOT-111s and replace them with 1232s, which punctured and burned in the Lynchburg, Va., derailment this spring. This disregard for public safety is alarming.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo is correct that jurisdiction over rail transport rests with the federal government, the state has powers as well. Our state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health could order all crude oil operations at or near the Port of Albany to cease, and this imminent hazard be summarily abated, using the federal hazard declaration as justification.

Short of summary abatement, the permits granted to Global Partners and Buckeye without proper environmental assessment could be revoked on obvious grounds: Materially false statements in the applications, failure to comply with environmental justice requirements and more. The ill-advised negative declaration issued to Global Partners by the defunded, under-staffed and overly-politicized DEC could be rescinded, and a full evaluation required.

A more creative option would be to warn the federal government that New York will not allow its people to be incinerated, either suddenly in a Lac-Megantic, Quebec-type catastrophe or gradually by global climate change, to further the oil industry's global agenda. If the federal government will not act, our state government must.

It appears to be a breach of governmental responsibility at all levels to allow these "bomb trains" to continue carrying their highly volatile cargo across America to Albany for transshipment to refineries and into the market, where it fuels catastrophic climate change. The situation here in Albany presents an opportunity to halt the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, safeguard our people and the environment from Bakken and the even more egregious Alberta tar sands crude, and force a transition to 21st-century energy systems.

We are asking our government to step up to the global climate change challenge. The government must protect the public and develop the safe renewable systems our nation needs now.

Susan Weber of Albany is a regional organizer with MoveOn.org and a member of PAUSE (People of Albany United for Safe Energy). She also is a former legislative counsel for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

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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.