- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Times Herald-Record of Middletown on increasing scrutiny of plans for transporting oil by rail and barge through New York.

April 18

On the surface the plan to transport tar sands oil in rail cars to a terminal at New Windsor, heat it and then load it on barges and ship it down the Hudson River will get all the scrutiny such a complex and potentially hazardous operation requires.

This shows that public opinion is already having an effect. That should encourage those who have spoken out to keep talking and those who have watched in silent concern to become more active. Those we elect to represent us in Albany and in local legislatures should not stay silent on these issues either.

In response to a letter from environmental organizations this week, a spokesman for the governor said that the administration shares their concerns about the New Windsor operation. Similar caution and scrutiny also now are being applied to a similar proposal at a similar facility in Albany with all of the same potential for environmental harm.

Yet not that long ago, the Cuomo administration saw no need to be quite so cautious. In 2011, the state allowed a near-doubling of petroleum product shipments to almost 3 billion gallons annually.

Just last November, the state Department of Environmental Conservation decided that the Albany plan would not have any significant environmental effects. Then public opinion started to turn against such swift action as news about spills, inadequate safety on tanker cars carrying volatile products and train derailments with the potential for more major troubles and more consequences turned a quiet enviro-bureaucratic exercise into a true public issue.

All of a sudden, the swift approval was reclassified as “an interim review subject to a final future determination of (environmental) significance.”

The tanker cars that carry the oil have gone off the rails in a few incidents in New York. So far, none of the derailments have had the devastating consequences that have been evident elsewhere with massive spills and fires. If so much oil is going to continue to be transported to major population centers in New York, as it will, then the cars that carry it have to be much more secure. That’s one reason Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has been leading the fight to lower the speed of oil-carrying trains through populated areas such as Kingston and Newburgh and to replace the tank cars now in use with those that have more safety features to prevent and contain spills.

Some have tried to exploit a political angle on this, saying that if the federal government would approve the construction of the controversial Keystone Pipeline, New York would not be facing these difficult environmental choices. That would be true if the pipeline were going to carry this oil to New York, which it will not, or if it would be operating in a few months, which it also will not.

The Keystone project is worth debating on its own merits. And so is the plan to transport this oil on tracks that border the Hudson River and, therefore, raise a major environmental issue.

You don’t have to be an activist or a scientist to understand what is at stake here.

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Online:

http://goo.gl/TqBMMl

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