Government faces lawsuit over emergency response plan
Group worried about local crude oil accidents, danger to animals
CAPITAL REGION A non-profit group focused on endangered species is threatening to sue the federal government for lacking updated emergency plans to deal with a potential catastrophe from crude oil shipment accidents.
Concerned with crude oil shipments traveling Capital Region railways and bound for transport on the Hudson River, the Vermont-based Center for Biological Diversity this week filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The center’s filing brings federal authorities into the ongoing discussion sparked by Global Company’s request for a permit change at its Port of Albany facility.
The company wants to add boilers to the site to warm up the thick oils to make it easier to pump it onto tankers and float down the Hudson River.
Center for Biological Diversity spokeswoman Mollie Matteson on Wednesday said the precise authority for planning spill response and what’s transported on the railway is “somewhat fractured and unclear” because so many agencies hold different responsibilities.
The Federal Railroad Administration holds oversight on railways, the EPA and U.S. Coast Guard each have different responsibilities and areas of focus.
The lawsuit will likely help elevate the conversation, Matteson said.
“Ultimately, what we need is a conversation at the highest levels about the impacts of this. This is an attempt to engage some of the agencies that have some responsibility to take a closer look.”
The permit review of Global Companies’ Port of Albany plans takes place at a time when the deadly explosion from a derailed oil-carrying train in Quebec is fresh on people’s minds — as is the late-December railway derailment and explosion in North Dakota.
Labeling current protocols as “antiquated,” the Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday alleged neither agency has taken a step toward updating emergency action plans in the face of more than 2 billion gallons of crude oil being loaded on barges and ships cruising south on the Hudson River.
Spill response plans are supposed to be updated every three years, and current emergency response protocols were last modified in 2011 before crude oil shipments started rolling en-masse toward Albany and the Hudson River.
The railways carrying these flammable substances travel alongside the Mohawk River on the CSX freight line and diagonally through Schoharie County, parallel to Interstate 88.
The inability to provide an updated spill response threatens not only residents in and around the river, but also a list of 17 different federally protected endangered species such as Atlantic sturgeon, sea turtles, six different whale species, two birds and plants like the seabeach amaranth that lives on sandy beaches on Long Island.
The Center for Biological Diversity, in its notice to federal agencies, highlights the complicated nature of spill response activities.
Some required techniques, such as dredging the bottom of a river like the Hudson, can could cause harm to existing species.
“It is vital to know how the complexities of the spill environment may interact with different spill response strategies, including specific mechanical, chemical and biological applications, which could affect species in different ways,” the notice states.
The federal Endangered Species Act, according to the center, requires these agencies to pre-plan spill response activities taking specific endangered species into account.
Mary Mears, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region II, said Wednesday the agency was aware of the filing but hadn’t yet reviewed it.
Mears said the U.S. Coast Guard is the primary agency responsible for emergency plans but those plans are developed in consultation with the EPA.
Efforts to reach a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson were unsuccessful Wednesday.
People can learn more about the Center for Biological Diversity online at www.biologicaldiversity.org.