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A Con Ed substation in Brooklyn spilled transformer oil into the East River. @kroesserstrat

'Catastrophic' Failure at Brooklyn Con Ed Spills 37,000 Gallons of Transformer Oil

A U.S. Coast Guard said that "catastrophic transformer failure" at a Con Edison station in downtown Brooklyn, New York caused 37,000 gallons of dielectric fluid, or transformer insulating oil, to leak onto property grounds and into the East River on Sunday.

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Spectra Energy

Here's How You Can Help Stop the Atlantic Bridge Pipeline

By Kimberly Ong

New York State is poised to make a decision on the Atlantic Bridge Project, a natural gas pipeline that would expand the existing Algonquin Gas Transmission Pipeline system, a vast 1,100 miles-long pipeline system that traverses New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

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More than 400 people came to Albany, New York on April 5, 2016 to urge the Cuomo administration to reject shale gas projects in New York state. Photo credit: Erik McGregor

Cuomo Denies Permit for Northern Access Pipeline

By Kimberly Ong

New York State blocked the Northern Access Project on April 7, a pipeline that would have carried fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Canada via New York. This is a huge victory not just for New Yorkers but for the entire planet.

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Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station in Oswego County, New York. Photo credit: Constellation Energy Nuclear Group

Cuomo’s Nuclear Bailout Spoils His Environmental Record

Just because we're living in the age of climate change denier-in-chief Donald Trump, it doesn't mean Democratic officials can take the environmental vote for granted.

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SolarCity Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York. Photo credit: SolarCity

4 Dying Nuke Plants vs. Fleet of Gigafactories: Which Will Gov. Cuomo Choose?

By Harvey Wasserman and Tim Judson

Elon Musk's SolarCity is completing the construction of its "Buffalo Billion" Gigafactory for photovoltaic (PV) cells near the Niagara River in Buffalo, New York. It will soon put 500 New Yorkers to work inside the 1.2 million-square-foot facility with another 700 nearby, ramping up to nearly 3,000 over the next few years.

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Hudson River near Hadley, New York. Photo credit: Brough Turner / Flickr

Small Towns Fight Big Oil

By Jenny Shalant

Last fall, a whale made a go of Manhattan. The humpback, eventually named Gotham, chased schools of herring from New York Bay into the Hudson River, as delighted onlookers snapped photos of its tail flukes framed by the city skyline. For a couple of weeks, the whale rose to social media stardom; it even started tweeting.

Wildlife experts say both the whale and its abundant prey testify to the improving water quality of the Hudson, which is a federally designated American Heritage River as well as one of the largest Superfund sites in the U.S. The river has come a long way since General Electric and other companies dumped toxic waste into its channel, but new threats may be on the horizon. The U.S. Coast Guard is considering a proposal to allow the construction of 10 anchorage grounds for massive oil barges (currently there are two). If approved, an influx of tankers up to 600 feet long would be able to dock in riverside communities between the George Washington Bridge and the Port of Albany.

Proposed oil barge anchorages for the Hudson River between Yonkers and Kingston-Rhinecliff, New York.Hudson River Trustee Council

Fossil fuel companies hope to take advantage of a recently lifted ban on crude oil exports by making the river a conduit to ports overseas. Meanwhile, environmental advocates fear the recovering river—a resource for wildlife, recreation and drinking water—will once again be steeped in industry.

The anchorage proposal submitted last year by the Maritime Association of the Port of New York/New Jersey, which represents oil and shipping interests, threatens to transform more than 2,400 acres of the waterway. In the south, the 43 new berths would extend down to Yonkers—a city in the midst of revitalizing its blighted industrial waterfront. On the northern end, the barges would dock in Kingston, which fronts one of the river's only public swimming beaches. All but one of the berths would allow for long-term anchorage, which would essentially convert the Hudson into a parking garage for crude oil.

During the comment period that ended in December, more than 10,000 people voiced their objections. Some opponents, like Mark Chertok, an environmental lawyer who represents the Hudson River Waterfront Alliance, pointed to the industry's practice of stockpiling oil on barges—as it does in the Gulf of Mexico—until higher market prices make it advantageous to unload its cargo. "This use of the river for arbitrage purposes would be an abuse of federal navigational authority," wrote Chertok. The project, he said, would enable "an invaluable public resource to be converted into free warehousing for private commercial benefit."

Sending more crude down the Hudson would also make old problems even worse, because much of the cargo may not be just any oil, but tar sands oil. Once stripped out of Canada's boreal forest, this volatile fossil fuel is transported by pipeline or train, then refined in a highly carbon-intensive process. Global Partners LP has applied for a permit to add new equipment to its storage facility at the Hudson port of Albany for the processing of tar sands oil. The company's refinery sits right beside the Ezra Prentice Homes, a low-income housing development.

Oil barge on the Hudson, 2016.Carolyn Blackwood

"It's a classic example of a polluting facility being sited directly adjacent to a low-income community of color," said Rob Friedman, a campaigner on the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) environmental justice team. "Public housing is often built on the cheapest land in a community and here you have people breathing in toxic fumes every single day, next to a facility that has already been shown to be violating the Clean Air Act."

NRDC is currently suing Global Partners and challenging its permit as part of a clean air case represented by Earthjustice. The lawsuit asks the court to force Global to apply for a new air pollution permit and prohibit the Albany facility from handling Bakken crude oil.

"It's amazing to have communities up and down the river in a state of resistance saying we're not going to stand for this," Friedman said. Beyond worries about how the barges will affect the look and feel of the river, it's the prospect of an oil spill that has many local citizens taking action.

Communities have ample right to be concerned. When a crude oil barge collided with a towboat on the Mississippi River in February 2014, responders were able to recover only a tiny fraction of the spilled fuel—just 95 of about 30,000 gallons. And tar sands crude is particularly disastrous for river ecosystems, explained NRDC staff attorney Kimberly Ong. "This oil immediately sinks to the bottom and there is, to date, no known way of effectively cleaning it up." (Just ask the residents of Kalamazoo, Michigan).

Oil spill on the Mississippi River, 2014.Coast Guard

"The Hudson is extremely turbid, so it's silty and there are a lot of suspended sediments in the water," added Friedman, who once worked on the river conducting water sampling tests for Riverkeeper. "If there were to be a spill of crude oil in the river, it's likely that a very small percentage would be recovered based on its turbidity and the fact that the Hudson is a tidal estuary," he said. "It's changing directions constantly."

In September, Riverkeeper's boat captain, John Lipscomb, gave a town hall presentation in Rhinebeck, New York. He discussed the deadly "bomb train" derailment in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic in 2013. In addition to killing 47 people, the accident sent 26,000 gallons of crude into the Chaudière River. In the year that followed the spill, government-commissioned biologists found unprecedented levels (up to 47 percent) of deformities in many of the river's fish species. Lipscomb, who has spent the past 17 years on the Hudson conducting pollution patrols and scientific studies, fears that lessons from the Chaudière are going ignored.

"Here we have endangered species that we've prioritized for recovery in the Hudson," Lipscomb said, referring to species like Atlantic sturgeon and bog turtles. "And we're running a product that if spilled can't be collected and has proven to cause problems for wildlife in the river." These incidents are also a toxic threat to the surrounding communities, he pointed out—and not just to the people who fish on the river. "The 40 percent of it that flashes off into fumes, if it happens in your community, is mutagenic and carcinogenic." (While few studies have examined the long-term impacts of oil spills on human health, many Gulf Coast residents were still suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular problems, memory loss and other degenerative issues five years after BP's Deepwater Horizon spill).

In light of New York's clean energy priorities, plus those 10,000 public comments and the pressure from organizations like NRDC, Riverkeeper and Earthjustice, Friedman remains hopeful that the new anchorages will be scrapped.

Protest in Albany, New York against Bakken crude oil coming into the Port of Albany.Pilot Girl / Flickr

Hudson Valley residents will need to keep this pressure up to protect the waterway in their backyards, but this is not just a local fight. By blocking the expansion of the tar sands industry, they're going to bat for all of us—from Alberta's First Nations, whose lands have been poisoned by the open-pit mining of this toxic fuel, to upstate New York residents breathing fumes from refineries next door, to the countries trying to curb carbon emissions instead of unleash them and finally, to the odd whale that chases its dinner up a welcoming river.

Jenny Shalant is a senior editor for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Renewable Energy
The nation's first offshore wind farm, located off the Rhode Island coast. Photo credit: Deepwater Wind

Nation’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm Gets Green Light

By Kit Kennedy

New York State made clean energy history today when the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) approved a contract for the nation's largest offshore wind project, which will be located in the waters off Eastern Long Island. The approval is the first step toward meeting a historic commitment announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month to put in place enough offshore wind power to light 1.25 million New York homes within 13 years.

It is proof positive that New York means business when it comes to clean energy. With his commitment to add the 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, Gov. Cuomo has now positioned New York State to be the leader in realizing the infrastructure, jobs and economic development benefits of the emerging U.S. offshore wind industry.

Here are the latest details. The board of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), the area's public power provider, voted this morning to approve a power purchase contract with Deepwater Wind, the U.S. offshore wind developer that built the nation's first offshore wind project off Rhode Island, which began commercial operation in December. The LIPA contract will enable Deepwater to finance the 90-megawatt South Fork project by guaranteeing a buyer for the project's electricity.

The South Fork project would be the second—and biggest—offshore wind power project in the country, following the 30-megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island waters. The South Fork project would power 50,000 homes in Long Island's South Fork region, helping to meet peak demand in the area. It would deliver electricity via an underwater cable directly to East Hampton, helping the town meet its forward-looking goal of getting 100 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2030.

Deepwater Wind has already secured a lease for the project from the federal government but still needs to go through the federal and state permitting and environmental approval process. Because the project will be sited 30 miles from Montauk, it will be "beyond the horizon" and therefore invisible from shore, avoiding any possible complaints about visual impacts.

Protecting Marine Ecosystems

In terms of ecosystem and wildlife issues, Deepwater Wind has already shown its commitment to protecting the marine ecosystems. It has worked with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other environmental organizations to develop plans to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, which migrate up and down the East Coast. At its Block Island project, the company successfully put these protective measures in place. We intend to work with Deepwater to replicate similar ecosystem-protection measures for the South Fork project, assuming the project moves ahead.

Big Benefits

Scaling up offshore wind power in New York, beginning with this LIPA project, can bring a host of benefits to New York's electricity grid, as I have described before. The jobs and economic potential of offshore wind are huge, as well: A SUNY Stonybrook study found that a single, 250-megawatt offshore wind power project could create 2,800 jobs and generate $645 million in local economic output, while a companion study finds such a project could be built with "essentially no impact" on consumers' electric rates. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that by 2050, with the right policies in place, the offshore wind industry could support 160,000 jobs nationwide.

The LIPA vote this morning also means that 2017 is already shaping up to be a pivotal year for U.S. offshore wind, as developers aim to build on the success of the nation's first offshore wind project by pursuing plans for a dozen or more projects up and down the East Coast.

In December, bidding for the leasing rights to a federal offshore wind energy area south of Long Island went through 33 rounds of bidding before the Norwegian developer Statoil won the auction for a record $42 million. And last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which manages federal ocean energy resources, announced the nation's next offshore wind energy lease auction, which will be for 122,000 acres off the North Carolina coast. Meanwhile Massachusetts has committed to build 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power over the next decade and Maryland is moving forward with plans to put 870 MW of offshore wind in place.

I joined other clean energy advocates in celebrating today's contract approval.Natural Resources Defense Council

Gov. Cuomo's support for the South Fork project and his commitment to developing 2,400 MW of offshore wind power as part of his broader plan to get 50 percent of New York's electricity from renewable resources by 2030 are a testament to what bold state leadership on climate and clean energy can achieve. In this new era, we'll need this state leadership more than ever.

Kit Kennedy oversees many of the Natural Resources Defense Council projects relating to energy efficiency, renewable energy and global-warming solutions.

Politics

New York Senate Votes to Stop NYC's Plastic Bag Fee

New York's Republican-controlled State Senate voted 42-18 Tuesday in favor of a measure that would kill New York City's five-cent fee for carryout bags.

"Many families have a hard time just getting by, paying for groceries, rent and heat," Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), who introduced the bill, said before Tuesday's vote.

As the Gothamist noted, Felder's bill took specific aim at New York City, as it would "prohibit bag taxes or fees in cities with a population of 1 million or more." The Big Apple is the only city in the state with 1 million people.

After two years of heated debate, the city council voted 28-20 in May to impose a small fee for each plastic, paper or cloth carryout bag provided by retail and wholesale stores. The Carryout Bag Law, slated to take effect Feb. 15, is aimed at "[reducing] the amount of waste we send to landfills, and will also help keep bags out of our trees, streets and oceans." New York City shoppers were encouraged to bring their own reusable bag to stores instead.

People on the supplemental nutrition assistance (SNAP), aka "food stamp," program do not have to pay the fee, as stores will provide carryout bags for these customers free of charge.

According to the New York League of Conservation Voters, the city spends more than $12 million each year sending 10 billion plastic bags to landfills. The organization argues that the bill would save taxpayers millions of dollars while also cutting bag litter in the streets, parks, waterways and landfills.

Raul A. Contreras, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, defended the fee. He told the New York Times that similar laws already exist in more than 200 municipalities in 18 states across the country.

"This is the type of progressive and environmentally conscious action that helps create a more sustainable city," Contreras told the newspaper via email. "We are going to continue to work with our partners in the city council and Albany on implementation of this legislation."

Democratic Senators also argued that the Senate should not overrule the city council's wishes.

"This is the nullification of the wishes of a legislative body representing 8.5 million people," Sen. Brad Hoylman, (D-Manhattan) told the New York Daily News, adding the Senate measure was "breathtakingly arrogant."

"I understand that people don't want to pay the fee. But a much easier way to avoid the fee than pre-empting our law is just to bring a reusable bag," Democrat Councilman Brad Lander told the Times. "It's just not that hard."

However, the American Progressive Bag Alliance said in a statement that the fee would "disproportionately impact those who can least afford it—without providing any meaningful benefit to the environment or New Yorkers."

The measure now heads to the Democrat-controlled Assembly. If the measure is approved by both chambers, Democratic Gov. Cuomo could sign it into law.

"If the Legislature passes a bill, we will review it," Cuomo's spokesman, Frank Sobrino, told the Times. The governor's position on the measure is currently unclear.

In recent years, carryout bag legislation in the form of bans or taxes has taken center stage in many cities and even entire states. While states like California have legislated against these single-use items, a growing number of states are spearheading bans on bag bans.

Last month, Michigan passed a law making it illegal for local governments to enact ordinances that ban or place fees on plastic bags or disposable containers used by stores and restaurants. Other states that have banned local plastic bag ordinances include Wisconsin, Idaho, Florida and Arizona.

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