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Victory for Groups Fighting Proposed Tar Sands Facility as Full Environmental Review Now Required

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Victory for Groups Fighting Proposed Tar Sands Facility as Full Environmental Review Now Required

In what came as a welcome surprise to activists in Albany, New York, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reversed an earlier decision and now will require a full environmental review for a proposed tar sands oil heating facility at the Port of Albany.

“It is good for New York State that the DEC came to a proper decision in one of the most important environmental matters facing the state," said Riverkeeper president Paul Gallay. "We look forward to participating with the state on a full public safety and environmental review that is robust and protective of our communities and our waterways.”

Riverkeeper is one of many groups fighting the plan by Global Partners to add tar sands oil to the Bakken oil it is already moving down and along the Hudson River in large amounts, efforts highlighted in this recent New York Times Op-Doc.

Riverkeeper also recently filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Transportation’s recent new oil-by-rail regulations.

Albany has become the largest distribution hub for crude oil on the East Coast due to its rail access and its port on the Hudson River and this transformation happened with so little fanfare that the local community was initially unaware of what the DEC had permitted.

There were no ribbon cutting ceremonies or big public announcements made by local government officials who were aware of what was happening. The mayor of Albany could be found cutting ribbons for the opening of Subway shops or bars, but not a word about the 2.8 billion gallons a year of oil that were permitted to arrive in Albany by train by the DEC.

And then the first oil tanker that was filled with 12 million gallons of Bakken oil loaded from rail cars and sent off down the Hudson promptly ran around. Luckily no oil was spilled and, as a result, local people began to ask questions just as Bakken trains began to derail and explode with alarming frequency, as noted in this short documentary about the risks posed by oil trains to Albany and the Hudson.

In addition to Riverkeeper, efforts to require a full environmental review for Global’s application were supported by Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Scenic Hudson, Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Advocates and the local group People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE).

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit last year challenging the DEC decision to not require a full environmental review on behalf of several of the groups involved as well as the local tenant association for a community located directly along the rail tracks. Chris Amato of Earthjustice led the efforts and welcomed this decision.

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“This is wonderful and welcome news for the people of Albany,” said Chris Amato, Earthjustice attorney. “We are gratified that DEC has listened to the community’s concerns and agrees with us that Global’s proposal will have significant environmental impacts. We look forward to working with the Department to identify the multitude of threats to the health and safety of communities that make this project a disaster-in-waiting.”

However, in the past week the expected outcome was not that the DEC would arrive at the conclusion they did. Capital New York reported that the DEC had been making the rounds of local politicians and informing them that it would be "legally difficult" for them to not allow Global to go forward with their plans for building a facility for heating tar sands crude.

So what changed the expected outcome? One significant development was a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to theDEC commissioner Joe Martens making two points.

Protest at the governor's mansion in August 2014.

The first was reminding Martens that he had not responded to a letter sent by the EPA a year ago asking for more information about the proposed project and pointing out flaws in the DEC’s air pollution analysis.

The second was to let Martens know that the EPA wanted to see any proposed permit to allow Global’s heating facility prior to the official review period so that the EPA could work “corroboratively with DEC to ensure that outstanding permitting issues concerning Global are addressed.”

While oil will still be transported to Albany by rail and then down the Hudson by barge and tanker, for now it is likely to remain the Bakken oil and not Canadian tar sands — which avoids the disaster that tar sands spills create in water.

This is welcome news in Albany and in communities all along the Hudson due to the risks involved.

NorthJersey.com recently reported on the risks posed by moving oil on the Hudson and spoke about these risks to retired Texas A&M University oceanography professor and expert on oil spills, Chuck Kennicutt.

“I have no side in this issue, but I do know one thing: You will have a spill,” said Chuck Kennicutt. “It’s almost inevitable. The question is how big.”

At least for now, thanks to the efforts of a large coalition of groups in New York, if that spill does occur, it won’t be Canadian tar sands oil.

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