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Green Groups press New York state for $100 million Oil Spill Fund

Repost from the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh NY

Green Groups press for $100 million state Oil Spill Fund

Claim $40M proposed in state budget won’t cover cost of derailments

By Kim Smith Dedam, March 23, 2015

ELIZABETHTOWN — Environmental groups are pushing state lawmakers to bulk up the state’s Oil Spill Fund.

They see a need for $100 million set aside, not $40 million as is currently proposed in the executive and legislative budgets.

And they have asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators to leave the money within the purview of the State Comptroller’s Office and not move the fund to State Department of Environmental Conservation coffers.

“This is a backup fund, mainly because in other cases, where a spill has led to significant cleanup costs, some companies go out of business, including the company whose accident resulted in the explosion at Lac-Megantic in Quebec,” Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said in an interview this week.

“At that point, there is little the state can do to get the money from the company other than to go to court.”

‘DOESN’T TAKE MUCH’

Total liabilities for the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, rail disaster in July 2013 could easily reach $2.7 billion over the next decade, the coalition said in a news release.

The Adirondack Council joined forces with Environmental Advocates, the Sierra Club and Riverkeeper to press the Oil Spill Fund issue.

“Typically, the requirement for (accident) insurance has not been high enough to cover the cost of an accident that could take place as the result of an explosion,” Sheehan told the Press-Republican.

“And it doesn’t take much oil to contaminate thousands of gallons of water, especially when we’re talking about a drinking water supply for 188,000 people, which Lake Champlain is.”

The Canadian Pacific Railroad line runs the entire length of Lake Champlain’s western shore, and oil train trips have increased in recent months.

Many places where oil cars have spilled and exploded sustained permanent environmental damage, Sheehan said.

$60 MILLION MORE

The coalition is not trying to force funding contributions from oil transport companies or the railroads to bolster state Oil Spill Funds.

They do believe lawmakers in Albany are on the right track in looking to increase funding for next year.

“However, the $15 million increase to $40 million proposed by (Cuomo) and Assembly budgets could and should be increased.

“In today’s dollars, the $25 million fund created in 1977 would be a $96.4 million fund today,” the coalition said in a news release.

“Thus, we urge that the fund cap be increased to $100 million to bring it back to parity with the monetary protection it afforded nearly four decades ago.”

They also charge that the Oil Spill Fund should be indexed to keep pace with inflation.

10 WRECKS YEARLY

“Federal regulators have told us to expect at least 10 major derailments of crude oil trains a year. There have already been four in the last three weeks,” Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper’s Special Projects director, said in a news release.

“It’s no longer a matter of if, but when, a catastrophe will happen in a New York community. If we are without a robust spill fund, New York citizens could be left to shoulder the cost of the cleanup and damages, just as the citizens of Canada were a year and a half ago.”

SEPARATE ACCOUNTS

Environmental advocates also asked Albany to fund emergency response separately from oil spill response and environmental cleanup.

“We welcome proposed funding for emergency response equipment, supplies and training for state and local emergency services personnel,” the coalition said in a news release.

“We strongly support the Assembly’s proposed legislation, which would keep that funding separate from the account that pays for remediation costs, as well as the damages associated with loss of life and property damage and economic losses suffered by individuals and businesses in the event of a spill.”

If response and spill monies are kept in a joint account, they contend, emergency cleanup costs could deplete the response fund, leaving the state without resources to remediate a spill.

‘TREMENDOUS RISK’

Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, said New Yorkers assume “tremendous risk and little economic benefit” from the millions of gallons of explosive crude oil that “rumble through our cities and along our precious waterways every day.”

Inaction on the part of the federal government to adequately address the risks or improve oil-tank-car safety should not prevent state lawmakers from building the most robust spill fund possible, he said.

The joint call for heightened oil-spill resources came within a day of the release of reports from state inspections done at railroad yards in Albany and Buffalo.

State inspectors found 93 defects in tracks and crude oil cars, including seven critical safety defects that had to be fixed before cars could continue operation.

Inspections were done on tankers at a CSX rail yard in Buffalo and at the Canadian Pacific yard in Albany.

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