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.
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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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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