For Immediate Release, July 17, 2014

Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Hudson River, Endangered Wildlife From Massive Increase in
Dangerous Crude Oil Shipments

NEW YORK— Responding to a massive increase in shipments of highly explosive crude oil along the Hudson River, the Center for Biological Diversity today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency for failing to update their oil-spill plans to ensure that spill-response activities do not harm the many endangered species dependent on the river. The lawsuit, filed under the Endangered Species Act, identifies 17 federally protected endangered species, including Atlantic sturgeon, sea turtles and piping plovers that, like the millions of people living along the river, are threatened by the increased risk of spills.

“With little public scrutiny or input, there’s been a massive increase in transport of highly flammable crude oil by rail and barge, which puts communities, rivers and wildlife in danger,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center. “We need a spill-response plan that actually protects residents and the precious endangered wildlife of the Hudson and northeast coast — animals like the Atlantic sturgeon, red knot and loggerhead sea turtle. We have to take immediate action to make sure these rare and marvelous creatures aren’t casualties of a reckless industry.”

The amount of crude oil being brought by rail to the port of Albany and then barged down the Hudson to East Coast refineries has jumped from essentially nothing, two years ago, to close to 3 billion gallons a year. The recent history of fiery derailments across North America indicates the urgency of addressing this growing threat to the environment from the rapid increase in oil trains. The U.S. Coast Guard and EPA, lead agencies on the region’s spill-response plan, have not completed required Endangered Species Act consultation to keep up with rapid increases of crude oil cargos from North Dakota and the potential impacts of oil-spill response measures.

“Oil trains pose an enormous danger we can’t overlook,” said Matteson. “Further shipments into Albany and along the Hudson River should be stopped until there’s an adequate plan in place to deal with the spills that are almost certain to occur.”

Since last year a series of fiery oil-train derailments have occurred in the United States and Canada, including a wreck of a 72-tank-car train last year in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that killed 47 people and incinerated part of the small tourist town. The most recent explosive derailment, on April 30, occurred in downtown Lynchburg, Va., where the James River was set on fire by oil leaking out of punctured tank cars. These accidents pose serious threats to endangered species as well as human communities, and the potential response measures, including the use of dispersants, burning the spilled oil and booming of oil, can directly affect protected species and their critical habitat.

The Hudson River has become a major conduit for crude shipped from the rapidly expanding oil fields of North Dakota and eastern Montana to East Coast refineries. In the wake of explosive derailments and mounting evidence that “Bakken” oil from North Dakota is unusually volatile and dangerous, the federal Department of Transportation has issued a series of safety advisories and called for voluntary reforms from the railroad and oil industries. But the agency has not enacted stronger regulations, despite warnings for years from transportation safety experts, including the National Transportation Safety Board, that tank cars are prone to puncture and rail routes, running through the heart of cities and towns across the country, are ill-placed for shipment of hazardous, volatile materials.  

The Center’s lawsuit identifies 17 federally protected endangered species, including shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, sea turtles, whales, roseate tern and piping plover, that are threatened not only by the increased risk of spills from oil trains, barges and tanker ships, but by response measures that often do more harm than good.

The Coast Guard and EPA have never completed formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service on the potential impact of oil-spill response on the protected species. 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrated that oil-spill responses can sometimes be as harmful to wildlife as the original spill; the use of chemical dispersants and burning of spilled oil, in particular, proved to be lethal to numerous marine species, protected sea turtles among them. The Center's complaint seeks to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated in the Hudson River region.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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