ALBANY, N.Y.— Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy today announced two separate legal actions that the county has taken to protect the health and safety of Albany County residents in light of inaction by the federal government regarding the recent surge of oil train traffic in the county. Over the past three years, shipment of crude oil by rail has grown from virtually nothing in Albany County to nearly 2 billion gallons per year. Most of the crude comes from the Bakken region of North Dakota, and it is well-known for being extremely volatile and prone to explosive fires when released in a train accident. A number of catastrophic oil train accidents have occurred in North America in recent years, including a derailment and fire that killed 47 people in Quebec in July 2013.
In order to address the concerns voiced by the county executive, county residents and advocacy groups, Albany County, represented by Earthjustice — along with the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, the Center for Biological Diversity, Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and Catskill Mountainkeeper — has put Global Companies on notice of its intent to file a federal lawsuit against the company for violating the Clean Air Act. This follows a decision in May by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation to notify Global that the agency intends to rescind the company’s “notice of completed application” due in part to Global’s failure to disclose to the public its ambient air-quality modeling for hydrogen sulfide and issues related to the firm’s compliance with emission regulations.
“Everyone has a right to breathe clean air,” said McCoy. “The process and disclosures on air-quality impact of the Global facility have compromised the health of our community. Global has 60 days to come into compliance or we will take this before the court.”
Said Earthjustice attorney Chris Amato: “Since 2012, Global has massively increased its emissions of air pollutants from the Albany Terminal without undergoing the stringent review and pollution controls required under the Clean Air Act. Today, we are putting Global on notice that they must comply with the Clean Air Act or face the consequences in federal court.”
“Crude by rail endangers millions of New Yorkers every day — through the threat of derailments, spills and catastrophic explosions,” said Sierra Club president Aaron Mair. “But it is low-income communities and people of color that have borne the disproportionate brunt of this virtual pipeline on rails, especially at the Port of Albany. State policies and federal laws designed to protect our most vulnerable communities can no longer be ignored. The Sierra Club is proud to be joining Albany County in addressing this great environmental and social inequity.”
“Shipment of Bakken crude poses an ongoing threat to the health of Albany’s residents, and also all the communities, waterways and wildlife habitats this dangerous oil passes by on the way to the Global terminal and down the Hudson River. It’s time Global Partners follows the law and stands accountable for its impact on people and the environment,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We appreciate the county executive’s decision to take a strong stance in these two cases,” said Paul Gallay, president of Hudson Riverkeeper. “We look forward to working with him to protect New Yorkers and their unique natural resources from the many threats posed by unsafe transport of crude oil in our state, which is a serious immediate threat not only to the communities of Albany, but also to communities up and down the Hudson River and to the river itself and all those who love and enjoy it.”
“The dramatic spike in the volume of crude oil received and stored at Global’s Albany Terminal and subsequently transported down the Hudson River has put our communities and natural resources at serious risk,” said Hayley Carlock, Scenic Hudson director of environmental advocacy. “Global has been violating its air permit every time it accepts a shipment of Bakken crude and must stop handling this dangerous product until it complies with the law.”
“This area already has impacted air because of the oil traffic through the Port of Albany,” said Wes Gillingham, program director at Catskill Mountainkeeper. “Global mistakenly thought they could get away with increasing their output of oil and adding 40 tons or more of volatile organic compounds to the air. VOCs are a serious health threat to people exposed. The rail yard is 20 feet from a playground. The Clean Air Act was created to protect communities from this kind of behavior. This is a classic example of environmental injustice but this time they will not get away with disregarding the people of Albany and New York State.”
Albany County is also filing a brief in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia against the U.S. secretary of transportation challenging the adequacy of the final rules promulgated by the secretary regarding oil-by-rail safety measures. The county, as represented by Earthjustice, will be seeking redress in requiring that oil tanker cars be upgraded to make them safer, to implement new standards in a more timely fashion, requiring an upgrade to braking systems, an expansion of the definition of “high threat urban areas,” more disclosure of routing decisions by transporters and the stabilization of crude oil before shipping in order to protect public safety.
“We’ve been fortunate that there has not been a serious incident — yet — in Albany County,” said McCoy. “But with nearly two billion gallons a year of oil being shipped through the county, we know there are significant gaps in the regulations implemented this year by the USDOT. We are working together on this suit to make our voices heard in Washington.”