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Albany, NY currently finds itself at the frontlines of the fight over the use of crude oil extracted from tar sands. A proposed expansion of the Global Partners terminal at the Port of Albany has come under fire from local elected officials, interest groups and citizens alike. The controversy centers around the plan to construct seven boilers at the port facility, designed to heat crude oil freighted in from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and Canada to temperatures of 120 degrees. This would make it easier to transfer the crude oil onto barges and other vessels for shipping down the Hudson River. Concerns abound over the potential environmental, public health, and safety risks of the project.

Although the project requires permit approval for four of the seven boilers by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, this process has up to this point been largely expedited (and hidden from the public). In fact, the South End community (which is the neighborhood bordering on the port) was not even made aware of the proposal until ONE DAY before its announcement by Global. Finally, after a major grassroots push, the public was given the ability to voice its concerns to the DEC. Local leaders helped to draw up a series of 50 questions regarding the project, which they hoped would be answered by the DEC and Global.

Unfortunately, the public comment forum proved to be unsurprisingly one-sided. Although, a Q&A was made available in the hall of Giffen Elementary School (located near the terminal), the information provided failed almost entirely to address most pressing questions. The comment session itself was opened with very broad overviews by both the DEC and Global themselves. This was followed by dozens of speakers from the community, including city council members, county legislators, neighborhood and tenant association leaders, and members of local environmental groups, along with residents from the neighborhood. Not ONE of the speakers I heard came out in support of the project. Despite this, the permit (under Title V of the Clean Air Act) seems almost assured to be approved.

Among the principal concerns expressed were the potential risks of a spill or an explosion as a result of the process, and whether such a disaster could be addressed without seriously affecting the community. Housing, and even a children's playground, are located just feet from the site of the proposed boilers. Residents are concerned that a situation may arise similar to what occurred in Quebec last year, when 47 people were killed due to a tanker explosion. Concerns also center around the potential water, soil and air pollution that may result from this project. This is particularly controversial given that the DEC has issued a Negative Declaration for the project, indicating that it will have a negligible impact on the surrounding environment. Opponents are calling on the DEC to rescind the declaration and conduct a full SEQR evaluation. They also want the DEC to conduct a full environmental justice review (for a poor, largely minority neighborhood), as well as bring the community into the dialogue with the DEC and Global.

Another aspect that makes this project so controversial is that it will have little to no economic benefit to the community. The crude oil is being brought in from out-of-state, and is set to be shipped down the Hudson River to refineries elsewhere. Global Partners themselves are a Fortune 500 company who say that they've already invested $30 million in the facility. However, such future investment will not bring in increased employment. As they describe it, they've expanded from 8 employees at the site to a grand total of 30.

This battle should certainly be placed in the larger context of other major fights regarding energy and the environment. Just look at the recent uproar over the report issued by the State Department regarding the Keystone XL pipeline. Right here in New York, a contentious debate has surrounded the status of hydraulic fracturing; the state Department of Health has delayed release of its final report regarding fracking for years. The ever increasing effects of climate change underscore just how important it is for progressives (and more broadly anyone with a brain) to try to win these fights and move both the country and the planet on a path to renewable, clean energy.

Originally posted to andydrew's blog on Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 09:15 PM PST.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Barriers and Bridges, and Community Spotlight.

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