Times Union, February 19, 2014
Coast Guard, EPA face possible lawsuit over Hudson crude oil spill plan
An environmental group says it will sue the federal government over an oil spill cleanup plan for the Hudson River that allegedly ignores how spills might harm its iconic Atlantic sturgeon.
More than a dozen other endangered species of fish, turtles, birds and other animals that live in the river or at its mouth are also a concern, the Vermont-based Center for Biological Diversity said.
The risk has grown since Midwest crude oil shipped on or along the river from the Port of Albany has surged in the last two years, according to legal papers filed Wednesday with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The planned lawsuit comes as crude from the Bakken fields of North Dakota arrives daily on massive trains into Albany, where it either continues on rail lines south along the Hudson or is loaded on barges or ships for transport downriver. In both cases, crude is destined for oil refineries on the Eastern Seaboard.
In 2012, when the Times Union reported on the Hudson oil spill plan in the wake of the oil tanker Stena Primorsk grounding on its maiden voyage from the Port of Albany, the Coast Guard, which last updated its plan in 2011, said there was no need to revisit the issue, something that the state Department of Environmental Conservation agreed with at the time.
Two companies at the port — Houston-based Buckeye Partners and Global Companies of Waltham, Mass. — have DEC permission to ship 2.8 billion gallons of oil a year that is arriving by rail.
"Given the volume of oil now being transported by train, ship and barge through the Hudson River corridor, and the terrible safety record we've seen for crude-by-rail shipments, it's a matter of when, not if, there will be a major spill," said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the center. "And right now we're just not prepared."
The notice filed by the center indicated that it would file its lawsuit within 60 days in federal court.
EPA and Coast Guard spokesmen declined comment on the planned lawsuit, which focuses on what is called an Area Contingency Plan, a kind of road map by the Coast Guard on how to deal with oil spills and other disasters on the entire Hudson, from New York Harbor to the upper Hudson in the Capital Region.
Coast Guard Public Affairs Officer Russ Tippets said the plan is "continually reviewed and updated as needed. We will continue to work with our port partners and other federal, state and local agencies to address any oil shipping concerns on the Hudson River." He could not say when the plan is next scheduled to be updated, although in 2012, a Coast Guard spokesman said the next revision would be in 2015.
EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said the spill plan is the responsibility of the Coast Guard, although EPA reviews the work. "We take the issue of potential oil spills in Hudson very seriously ... but these waters are the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard."
The potential lawsuit alleges that both the Coast Guard and EPA violated the 1973 federal Endangered Species Act by not consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and theNational Marine Fisheries Service to craft how the spill plan would address protection of 17 endangered species along the river and its harbor that could be imperiled by an oil spill, or by a mishandled cleanup attempt.
"Having failed to do so for more than two decades, despite the very (spill plan) itself recognizing this legal requirement, is a glaring violation of the Endangered Species Act," according the legal papers.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Meagan Racey said, "While we have not been engaged in formal consultation, some of our staff have reviewed different iterations of these plans through informal consultation or technical assistance, meaning we've suggested measures that might be taken in an emergency response that would minimize or avoid adverse effects to protected species. If adverse effects are avoided, we do not formally consult."
Marine Fisheries officials were not able to provide comment for this story in time for deadline.
The court action comes amid a growing national debate over a flood of crude being shipped by rail from the Midwest on so-called oil trains, which can contain more than 100 cars carrying millions of gallons of highly flammable crude. One type of tanker car in common use has been found to be prone to rupturing during derailments, which can result in large explosions.
Blasts have occurred in Quebec, where 47 people died last year, and in Alabama and North Dakota.
The federal government, which regulates rail shipments and safety, is exploring whether to impose tougher safety standards on the rail cars.
"More oil was spilled from rail cars in the U.S. last year than in the previous four decades," saidJohn Lipscomb, water quality monitoring director of the Hudson advocacy group Riverkeeper. He has spent the last year studying the Coast Guard spill plan for the Hudson.
This plan does not specifically mention either Buckeye or Global, or provide information on which company officials ought to be contacted by the Coast Guard in the event of a spill. The plan also does not include any mention of the Albany Port District Commission, or port Manager Richard Hendrick, who has held the post since 2008.
"The public clearly is no longer willing to accept the assertions by the agencies and the railroads that there is no problem, that everything is OK," Lipscomb said.
He said the Coast Guard needs to update its spill plan to "accommodate the surge in petroleum that is moving the down the Hudson ... we have to understand what is being gambled without our say-so. We might be the ones left holding the mess, holding the bill."
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This article originally appeared here.
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