Washington, D.C. – With the rise of transporting crude oil through New York State and a series of derailments and spills that potentially put New York communities at risk, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is pressing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard to quickly update contingency plans for oil spills in the New York and New Jersey region.
The safety plans are due for an update this year and with concerns rising over the danger of crude oil transported through local New York communities, Senator Gillibrand is asking for new safety guidelines now.
“These freight trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous liquids are going through communities near homes, schools and hospitals,” Senator Gillibrand said. “A derailment or explosion in New York could put countless lives at risk and cause major damage to our waterways. We need new contingency plans to protect our homes, families, communities and our environment.”
The current New York and New Jersey Area Contingency Plan (ACP) to identify risks and coordinate resources to mitigate the consequences of oil and hazardous material spills was last updated in 2011, before the steep rise in crude oil shipments took shape in New York.
According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to an estimated 400,000 carloads in 2013 nationally. Terminals at the Port of Albany have the capacity to handle 2.8 billion gallons of oil per year. Since December 2013, there have been at least four incidents involving rail cars used to carry crude oil and hazardous liquids in New York State, including West Nyack, Cheektowaga, Ulster, and Selkirk. Millions of New Yorkers live, work, and attend school within the vicinity of the train tracks, which are used daily by trains over 100 cars long and carrying 85,000 barrels of oil.
CSX lines carrying crude oil run through neighborhoods in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and New York City, as well as other cities, towns and villages around the state. An accident or explosion in any of these communities would have catastrophic consequences. Additionally, freight rail lines run along some of New York’s environmentally sensitive areas, including the banks of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, and along the edge of the Adirondack Park in the North Country. A spill affecting any of New York’s water bodies, public lands or other protected ecosystems would pose a serious risk to these natural resources.
In her letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Admiral Robert Papp, the Senator wrote, “Given the major changes in the type and volume of oil shipped in the region, the risks associated, and the concerns that have been raised by local communities, I urge you to begin the process of updating the ACP as soon as possible.”
Senator Gillibrand also noted the importance of including local first responders in the planning process. The Senator wrote, “Since local officials are most likely to be first on the scene of an incident, it is essential for them to have prior notification of the types of materials travelling through their communities, immediate notification of incidents, and the proper training and resources to respond effectively.”
Senator Gillibrand’s complete letter to the EPA and Coast Guard is attached.