Some History of the Pre-PAUSE Oil Train Fight

In the six months between Lac-Megantic and when PAUSE was launched, a number of important initiatives were undertaken by others:
1) Persistance by very concerned citizens brought about an Albany Common Council Public Safety Committee meeting (July 29, 2013), at which Albany Fire Chief Forezzi and Port of Albany Executive Director Hendricks insisted the oil trains were safe. One Common Council member stated that Lac-Megantic was a "fluke" and such an incident was not likely to to happen in Albany.
2) The ineffectiveness and unsuitability of the Albany County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) Chair was exposed after he stated publicly that the oil trains were "as safe as your car in your driveway."
3) Albany County Legislators were contacted, leading to the LEPC Chair being replaced by Sheriff Apple.
4) New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (NYSDHSES) officials were contacted by phone on September 13, 2013 and asked what plans the agency had in place in the event of an oil train disaster. DHSES officials stated they were unaware of the existence of the oil trains. NYSDHSES did not respond to subsequent e-mails on the subject of oil train risks on September 19 and later.
5) A September 19, 2013, e-mail to NYSDHSES expressed  concern over the oil trains and stated, in part:
"...initial research indicates that jurisdiction over these (oil train) activities is fragmented. We have not been able to locate an environmental impact statement or risk assessment that contains a plan to manage risks related to the oil transshipment. While there is general agreement... that the Coast Guard is responsible for managing risks on the water, there is very little information or agreement over which agencies have jurisdiction over landside activities and the risks they pose. We have been referred repeatedly to DHSES as the government agency responsible for managing regional risks associated with the oil transshipment.
We're looking for answers to the following questions:
a) What is the extent of DHSES responsibility to manage (through plans, risk assessments, coordination) the risks associated with rail transport of oil to the Port of Albany for transshipment. What are the geographical and jurisdictional limits of DHSES responsibility?
b) Would the DHSES have any responsibility for managing risks associated with rail transport of oil down the Hudson Valley to refineries? If not, who has that responsibility?
c) What steps have been taken to assess potential risks associated with transshipment of oil through highly populated areas and through the port? For example, is there a risk assessment that plans for worst case scenarios? Is there an assessment of what the Albany Fire Department can respond to  and what is beyond its capabilities?
d) Does DHSES coordinate risk management related to these industrial activities? In the case of a significant emergency, such as a large industrial accident and fire, who would coordinate accident management?
Who is responsible for cooperation with Federal agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to insure that railroads moving into and through the region are complying with federal regulations."
Once again, NYSDHSES did not respond to subsequent e-mails asking important questions on the subject of oil train risks.
4) NYSDHSES officials were contacted and asked to put the oil trains on the agenda of the November 21 meeting of the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission, scheduled for 1:00 PM in the First Floor Conference Room of Building 7A at the Harriman Campus. The November 21 meeting was cancelled at the last minute.
5) The public (including Times Union reporter Brian Nearing) were prohibited from being present at much of the December 18, 2013 meeting of the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission due to an executive session being declared by NYSDHSES Director Jerome Hauser.
6) Global Partners made an application to the City of Albany Planning Board for approval of an oil heating facility which would allow transport of bitumin (presumably tar sands) into Albany. The heating plant proposal was presented at the first meeting on the issue with the Planning Board, with Albany consulting engineers Hershberg & Hershberg making the presentation for Global. Albany consulting engineers Clough Harbour & Associates prepared the engineering work and drawings for the project.
The second meeting on the issue was scheduled for Dec 19, 2013 and an affirmative vote on the matter was anticipated. A letter to the Planning Board was prepared by Sierra Club's Roger Downs and an attorney from another environmental group. Downs was unable to attend the December 19 meeting. 
A messenger was dispatched and the letter from Downs was read at the December 19 meeting, explaining the lack of the legally-required environmental assessments for the proposed heating plant project. The messenger added one short sentence to Downs' letter: "If you approve this project, you're likely to be sued."
The tar sands heating proposal was immediately tabled by the City of Albany Planning Board.
Dec 24, 2013 Mayor Kathy Sheehan received a campaign donation check of $500 from Global's consulting engineer, Dan Hershberg.
Beginning in January 2014, other groups (including the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Council) were  contacted to warn them of the dangers of the oil train, and to ask them to oppose oil trains in New York State.
In January of 2014, $200 was provided by Albany-based environmental group Save the Pine Bush to cover printing costs for the formation of PAUSE.
Tim Truscott [email protected]
Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment

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.