Community to Council: “We Aim to Stop These Pipelines”
The City of Albany Common Council voted on Monday, May 16th to oppose the Pilgrim oil pipelines, two proposed pipelines which would begin and end in Albany, New York. A standing-room-only crowd, 18 of whom testified against what one speaker called the “preposterous Pilgrim pipelines,” packed into City Hall at 7 PM. The energetic crowd, including Ezra Prentice Homes residents, faith leaders, union members, health professionals, and environmental and climate justice advocates, toughed it out in the increasingly warm and airless chamber until the vote was called at 11:15 PM. “That was a real nail-biter,” commented Albany resident Roger Downs, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, after the vote. Downs had been the first to testify in favor of the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipelines, more than four hours earlier.
“I’ve never seen as grave an injustice as I’ve seen at Ezra Prentice Homes,” testified Willie White, AVillage Executive Director, referring to the residents in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Albany’s South End, where oil trains rumble 30 feet from a children’s playground while off-gassing from the Global facility and oil trains has led to negative health impacts. “We’ve already got the oil trains, hundreds of diesel trucks, Route 787, Global’s oil heating facility… It’s a travesty. If we really take a moral look at this, it’s not just a dollar bill, it’s people’s lives. We have a right to clean water too, clean air too, and we aim to stop these pipelines.”
Time-Warner Cable posted video of Willie White speaking during the extraordinary Common Council meeting: Albany Common Council Opposes Pilgrim Pipelines.
“We Should Not Increase the Risk”
The oil trains currently carrying about 35,000 barrels per day into Albany would “quintuple” in order to service the Pilgrim oil pipelines if they were to be built, according to research presented by Stephen Shafer, MD, MPH, to the Common Council.
Albany resident Gregory Bell told the Council, “Albany is struggling financially. From a budget perspective, any substantial spill or exploding rail car would be too costly. The Kalamazoo [River in Michigan] cleanup has cost $3 billion so far, and it’s not over. The cleanup cost in Lac Megantic [Canadian town destroyed by an oil train explosion] is $2.7 billion so far. Should Pilgrim pipelines be built, we would see a four to six times increase in oil train quantity here. We should not increase the risk. This Council should pass this Resolution.”
Sitting in rows, standing wherever space appeared, and even sitting on the tile floor, community members clapped frequently after residents’ testimony, despite repeated admonishments from the Council leadership not to clap.
It’s Our Health: Environmental Racism and City-Wide Impacts
Health concerns and environmental racism related to the proposed Pilgrim oil pipelines took center stage throughout much of the night.
Portia Gaddy, an Ezra Prentice resident for 15 years, said, “I want to be part of the Committee to stop the pipelines, part of the work, because I’m going through health issues. I’ve got children, grandchildren with asthma. I love my surroundings but I can’t live with my surroundings… I’m a victim, I’m affected. Everywhere you turn, there’s trains.”
The fourth person to testify, Deneen Carter-El, an Ezra Prentice Homes resident, said, “My biggest concern is the health problems: cancer, asthma, respiratory, sinus. I’ve lived there over 20 years, and I don’t want this in my backyard. Trains are running again despite the [Breakfree Albany] rally and I don’t want them any more. We have thousands of residents: elders, children, people with disabilities.”
Two days before the Albany Common Council vote, 2,000 people rallied in Albany to “break free” from fossil fuels, with 500 marching through the Ezra Prentice Homes neighborhood in solidarity and support, hundreds more risking arrest on the bomb train tracks at the Global facility where Pilgrim pipelines would begin and end. Five were arrested while blocking an oil bomb train in Guilderland, just north of Albany.
The Reverend Peter Cook, Albany resident and Executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches, which serves over 7,000 congregations, asked the Albany Common Council to pass the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim pipelines. “A much greater volume of oil would flow, with more trains. The pipelines pose a tremendous risk to waterways. It would be profoundly unjust… I was a pastor with the United Church of Christ, which did a groundbreaking study of environmental racism. Those communities which have no political clout or money are hurt the worst. We must value the diversity of our community. We must care for each other.”
Delora Bascombe, a community health outreach worker, testified that she was “also here as a mother, citizen, neighbor, and member of the SUNY academic community in the field of public health. The VOCs — volatile organic chemicals — which would increase if Pilgrim pipelines were to be built, would impact South End residents acutely but would affect the whole City of Albany due to thermal inversion,” she said. “Thermal inversion is what happens when poisons released into the atmosphere settle over our entire city, and that would impact everyone in this room,” she explained.
Reverend McKenzie Johnson, speaking fourteenth, asserted, “Areas of the South End are under attack. We are being attacked by greed, by indecision, by air, by land, and now with the Pilgrim pipelines, by both. Even brand new pipelines leak; corrosion starts quickly. It’s not the inspectors that find the leaks, it’s a passerby that found the last major oil pipeline leak.” Emphasizing Albany’s high-density population in the South End, McKenzie said that compared to the oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, which killed 47 people, “if an explosion happens here, 1000 or more people could be killed.” In terms of oil leaks, he said, “Pilgrim pipelines would be worse than trains or trucks. Vote YES on the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim.”
Full disclosure: this blogger also testified. “I organize with the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines-NY, and we are working with 38 municipalilties along the direct route of the proposed Pilgrim pipelines. Albany would be hurt the worst, in five ways. There would be a five-fold increase in oil trains coming into Albany, but the DEC might segment their environmental review, taking no notice of the oil trains increase. The pipelines would be drilled right under the Hudson River twice, threatening the Albany waterfront for 40-80 years. First responders in Albany would be stressed and stretched to respond to an oil bomb train explosion, pipeline spill or other emergency Pilgrim pipelines might create. Environmental justice communities, such as Ezra Prentice Homes, have already had more than they can take but would be hit hard by Pilgrim. And in terms of air quality, Albany is already out of compliance with federal ozone regulations.
“In the big picture, everyone’s health is at risk, from cradle to grave, from fracking and flaring, trains and pipelines, to refining which makes people sick, to the end use, which increases climate chaos. Oil use in New York State is declining,” this blogger concluded, “so we don’t need these oil pipelines.”
Jobs, Water, and the Big Picture: All This for Four Jobs?
“We need more jobs with sustainable energy instead of hurting already overburdened communities of color,” said Albany resident Jessica, the tenth to testify. “Pilgrim Pipelines would create only 50 permanent jobs in all of New York and New Jersey, with maybe four of those jobs in Albany. Those are specialized jobs, so they would probably bring in people from out of state. There’s no justification for the harms Pilgrim pipelines would bring to human health, our economy, water, properties, and wildlife.”
“I oppose the Pilgrim pipelines and agree with all who spoke. I want to stress the water,” said Albany Resident Carol, the 13th to testify. “In Hoosic Falls, in Flint, and all around the world, water is being poisoned. Over 200 bodies of water would be drilled through by the Pilgrim Pipelines. Let’s get smart about the value of our water and say NO.”
Both Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings LLC’s President and Vice President are former Koch Industries executives. In 2000, Koch Industries received what was at that time the biggest fine in EPA history, when the EPA aggregated together 300 of their oil pipeline spills and fined Koch Industries $30 million.
“I am a member of the teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers; the National Education Association; and an AFL-CIO local, so I am a sibling with my fellow union members here,” began Mary Finneran, a Cairo resident who spoke out of her experience. “I just found out my childhood home… was toxic. After Corning left, working class buildings were built on that poisoned site; my mother had terrible asthma, my brother had learning disabilities and nosebleeds,” said Finneran. “This is not normal. I can just imagine the children at Ezra Prentice starting to think their health impacts are normal, but it’s not. Can we blame anyone here who allows the Pilgrim pipelines without taking future health risks into consideration? Yes. We can.”
The 16th speaker, Bill Walsh of the Capitol Region Building Trades, engineers’ union, and Teamsters, was the first and only speaker who expressed reservations about the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipelines. “We haven’t had time to look into it,” Walsh said. “Many people here tonight have specific data, and pertinent information, but it’s not adequate information. I ask that you table this Resolution so we can have our point of view heard.”
“Real Democracy is Messy”
Things got even more interesting after Bill Walsh’s testimony. Chris, the 17th speaker, said he has lived, worked and raised children in Albany since 1973. “Thank you for extending the comment period,” he made a point of appreciating the Common Council for their decision to extend the comment period for another hour after 9 PM. “Real democracy is messy,” he commented.
Chris described what it took to successfully defeat a medical waste incinerator and a high sulfur coal plant in Albany. He said that Albany’s history of successfully repelling toxic projects shows the industry assaults ceased when “word got out we are well organized.”
Now, Chris said, the Capitol District is being targeted anew for environmentally toxic industries because “we are seen as being desperate and poor.”
“The oil trains and pipelines and tar sands heating facility — all are connected,” he said. “The floodgates are open. Oil trains, Pilgrim pipelines are just as bad [as earlier toxic projects], another form of environmental racism,” he observed.
Drawing a lesson from the past, Chris commented, goes against tabling the Resolution or being slow to act. “The way we defeated those projects was, the Mayor came out strong. Unless you put your foot down and stand with the Mayor,” he implored the Council, “we can’t do it without all of you.”
Word on the street, going into the contentious four-hour meeting, had been that a group of Councilmembers planned to vote “No,” or abstain from voting “Yes,” on the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim pipelines not on principle, but because they didn’t want to vote “for” a resolution Mayor Kathy Sheehan supports. As in, petty power politics.
Diana Wright, representing People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE), pointed out that “Governor Cuomo banned fracking due to health and environmental impacts. We are already being affected by combustion of fossil fuels. I can’t imagine a more pressing issue,” she said. “Breakfree was momentous: people came from as far away as Oregon, Canada, and Minnesota to attend Breakfree Albany, and we are all together, white and people of color. Now we have an historic chance to stop a pair of new fracked fossil fuel pipelines,” she concluded.
Finally, Tina Lieberman, a resident of Albany’s 14th Ward, was the 19th and final speaker, since many of the 30 who had signed up to testify had gone home. “The Pilgrim pipelines would deeply impact my quality of life. The Pilgrim pipelines representative is very clear that their goal is to reach their carrying capacity of 200,000 barrels per day, per pipeline, for two pipelines. But remember 2014? Those trains were snaking around everywhere. It was beginning to look like an industrial wasteland. 2014 was just 100,000 barrels per day! You want twice that?”
“I heard a Lac Megantic survivor,” Tina said, describe what it was like when 47 people were instantly incinerated by a huge fireball. “The blast zone is half a mile, and taxpayers would foot the bill,” she said. “This is the time to take a stand. Tabling this Resolution is as good as a No vote, and we will hold you accountable. We expect to see you take responsibility to protect Albany, and vote Yes for the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipelines.”
After another hour of speeches, the Common Council did pass the Resolution, with nine votes Yes, zero votes No, and six votes “Present.” The bizarre “present” votes are abstentions from Councilmembers (who may have been swayed by the intense pressure from John Casselini, Pilgrim’s well-connected lobbyist in Albany, for weeks leading up to the vote) who might like to avoid the wrath of their constituents by, well, at least not voting “no” on the resolution opposing the pipelines.
If that quadruple negative is confusing, you can find partial explanations and a complete breakdown of who voted which way in the Albany’s newspaper, the Times Union. Even the regular press found the “present” votes “weird”:
On Friday May 13th, two days before the vote, about 50 kayak-wielding activists took a few hours to defend the cities of Albany and Rensselaer from the new wave of fossil fuel infrastructure threatening the Hudson River, including the Pilgrim pipelines and its associated increase in oil “bomb trains.” Maybe you don’t have the stamina for hours-long legislative meetings to defend your homes, your water, and your lives? You can also get out on the river to take a stand.
Twenty-six New York Municipalities Stand Up to Big Oil
The nine-to-nothing vote made Albany the 26th municipality in New York State to pass Resolutions Opposing Pilgrim pipelines, joining the Town of Bethlehem in Greene County and the Village and Town of Woodbury in Orange County among the most recent additions to the list.
The two pipelines, proposed by a corporation whose two principals are both former Koch Industries executives, would carry Bakken Shale oil and/or tar sands dilbit south from Albany to Linden, New Jersey. In Linden, no refinery has yet signified any desire or ability to handle the massive 200,000 barrels per day carrying capacity of the Pilgrim pipelines, suggesting to DeSmogBlog that export may be the pipelines’ primary purpose.
A second pipeline would run northbound, parallel to and in the same ditch as the crude oil pipeline, expected to carry gasoline, jet fuel, kerosene, heating oil and diesel. However, Pilgrim representatives have admitted the northbound pipeline’s flow could be reversed and it could be repurposed to carry just about anything, including more crude oil, southbound for marine terminals.
Once in the ground, local communities – and possibly even state and national governments, if international export contracts are signed, due to the trend of current trade treaties to give supranational powers to corporations – would have no control over what corporation might maintain the pipelines, whether they are indemnified, what is put into the pipelines, where the fuel comes from, how it is extracted, where it is shipped, nor any meaningful way to limit the pipelines’ long-term health, safety, environmental, climate and social justice impacts.
The Last Word: “A Unified Message to the Pipeline Companies”
The Reverend Marc Johnson, Associate Pastor, Greater St. John’s Church, commented after the Albany victory, “By passing this resolution it sets the tone for our community and city that we don’t want the pipelines to be installed at any time! We send a unified message to the pipeline companies from the beginning that they are not welcomed here. If an issue is killed at the root, we don’t have to worry about about the production of the fruit.”
On January 12th, 2016 the New Paltz Town Board again took a strong stand to defend New Paltz against the proposed Pilgrim pipelines, voting unanimously to approve sending the following letter asking that the New York State Thruway Authority be removed from their proposed role as co-lead agency for the environmental review of Pilgrim pipelines. New Paltz asked that DEC be sole lead agency, and re-affirmed their opposition to the two pipelines ever being built. Board members read the letter aloud for the public record, as follows:
January 12, 2016
BY CERTIFIED MAIL
The Hon. Basil Seggos
Acting Commissioner, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
Albany, New York 12233-1010
Dear Commissioner Seggos:
The Town of New Paltz, as you may be aware, passed a Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipelines last year due to the unacceptable impacts these pipelines would have on public health, safety, climate, drinking water, streams and rivers, economic well-being, and more. In keeping with the leadership role New Paltz is taking to defend our community against the proposed controversial Pilgrim pipelines, and in keeping with at least 28 other New York towns, villages, cities and counties working together to protect our communities, we request that you resolve the dispute over co-lead agency by removing the Thruway Authority from its proposed shared lead agency role.
Pursuant to New York State’s State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) regulations, the Town of New Paltz hereby submits our formal request to NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Segos to resolve the dispute over the designation of lead agency for the Pilgrim Pipeline Project. 6 NYCRR section 617.6(b)(5).
Two involved agencies, the New York State Thruway Authority and DEC’s Acting General Counsel proposed, on Dec. 21, 2015, that they serve as co-lead agency for the SEQR review of the proposed Pilgrim pipelines project. The City of Kingston, an involved agency, has now expressed its disagreement with and refusal to consent to this co-lead agency proposal by letter dated January 4, 2016, from its Mayor Steven Noble to DEC Commissioner Seggos and Robert Megna, Executive Director of the Thruway Authority, and by letter dated January 7, 2016, transmitting the resolution of its City Council to the same effect to Commissioner Seggos.
In addition, the Town of Rosendale, also an involved agency, has communicated to Commissioner Seggos, by letter dated January 6, 2016, that it remains committed to DEC and not the Thruway Authority as the sole lead agency for the proposed Pilgrim Pipelines project.
In addition, the Town of New Paltz, with this letter, also opposes the Thruway Authority being included in the lead agency role, and requests that DEC alone act as lead agency.
The refusals of the City of Kingston and towns of Rosendale and New Paltz to consent to the Thruway Authority and DEC’s Dec. 21, 2015 co-lead agency proposal mean that involved agencies are unable to agree on which lead agency will be lead and therefore any involved agency may request, by certified mail, that the DEC Commissioner designate the lead agency for this project. 6 NYCRR section 617.6(b)(5)(i). The Town of New Paltz hereby makes that request.
The Town of New Paltz is an involved agency because portions of the Pilgrim pipelines project are proposed to be constructed within the boundaries of the town and local approvals are necessary before that construction could take place. The Town is identified as an involved agency in Pilgrim Pipeline Holding, LLC’s preliminary Draft Environmental Impact Statement dated August 2015 (page ES-&).
The New Paltz Town Board, on November 19, 2015, unanimously approved our offer to act as Lead Agency for the SEQR review of the proposed Pilgrim pipelines. We sent that offer, along with our stated opposition to NYSTA as lead agency, to the DEC on November 19, 2015.
Information relevant to the Commissioner’s application of the designation criteria that are enumerated in the SEQR regulations at 6 NYCRR section 617.6(b)(5)(v) is presented below.
Per the requirements of the SEQR regulations, we are sending this request for the Commissioner to resolve the lead agency disagreement on the Pilgrim Pipelines project by designating the lead agency to all the Involved Agencies along the proposed Pilgrim pipelines’ route in New York State, and are hereby informing them that all comments they may want to submit with respect to the Commissioner’s designation must be submitted to him within 10 calendar days of their receipt of our request.
The Town of New Paltz, consistent with its resolution of November 19, 2015, remains firm in its belief that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and not the NYS Thruway Authority (NYSTA), is the only appropriate agency to serve as lead in the environmental review of the proposed Pilgrim pipelines project. The Town, moreover, has significant concerns about the proposal for co-lead agency, and does not offer its consent for the following reasons.
It has been the policy of the DEC to discourage co-lead agency of SEQR processes, and the Town does not see how this case merits an exception. The NYS DEC website states that, “the purpose of having a lead agency is to coordinate the SEQR process so that when an action is to be carried out, funded or approved by two or more agencies, a single integrated environmental review is conducted. This lead agency is responsible for making key SEQR determinations during the review process”—a task made potentially much more difficult when two different agencies are granted joint discretionary authority. The DEC has the appropriate mission, jurisdiction, resources, and expertise to exercise a proper and thorough environmental review of this proposed project.
It is the opinion of the New Paltz Town Board that the criteria for a lead agency determination strongly favor DEC. These criteria, in order of importance, include: 1) whether the impacts are of local, regional, or state-wide significance; 2) which agency has the broadest powers of investigation of the environmental impacts; and 3) which agency has the best capacity to provide a thorough environmental assessment.
With regard to the first and second criteria, the proposed Pilgrim pipelines project involves numerous potential impacts to resources of local, regional, and state-wide concern, many of which are within DEC’s regulatory jurisdiction. These include the Hudson River and such important tributaries as the Rondout, Esopus, and Catskill Creeks and Wallkill River, the Ramapo River Watershed, State-regulated wetlands, the Karst Aquifer Region (a priority project designated in the NYS Open Space Conservation Plan), Harriman State Park, and other resources that the DEC is responsible for protecting, including, possibly, endangered species (the Karst Aquifer Region, for example, provides critical habitat to the federally-listed Indiana Bat).
In addition, a proposed project to construct the first crude oil pipeline in New York must be evaluated within the context of the State’s broader climate goals and the New York State Energy Plan. Governor Cuomo has expressed his intention for New York to serve as a national leader in addressing climate change, and the DEC has statewide responsibility for climate change mitigation. The Commissioner’s Policy mandates that DEC must consider climate change in all its actions, including permitting.
In his letter of December 21, 2015, declaring NYSTA as co-lead agency, NYSTA Executive Director Robert Megna argues that the common regional jurisdictions of the two involved agencies are a basis for co-lead agency. We strongly disagree. NYSTA’s jurisdiction, while crossing numerous municipal boundaries, is confined narrowly to use and occupancy of its own property. NYSTA has no jurisdiction over the many environmental and community resources that are potentially put at risk by this project in the event of a spill or other major project impact. The potential impacts of even a relatively small spill could have serious consequences for a community or communities through which the Thruway runs, if it contaminates an aquifer or water body.
By contrast, the NYS DEC’s governmental powers of investigation in review of this project are broad, as illustrated by Acting Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Thomas Berkman in his letter of Dec. 21, 2015, to NYSTA Executive Director Robert Megna:
A preliminary review of the application indicates there is the potential for significant adverse environmental impacts associated with the construction and operation of the pipeline, including but not limited to, impacts to hundreds of acres of forest, regulated waterbodies and wetlands. The Project, as proposed, would implicate the Department’s permitting authority pursuant to the Environmental Conservation Law and the federal Clean Water Act.
Both the first and second criteria for determination of lead agency contained in the SEQR regulations strongly favor DEC.
With regard to the third criteria—the relative expertise of involved agencies—the DEC clearly has the greater breadth and depth of expertise needed for this review. NYSTA’s knowledge of highway use and regulation and traffic impacts, while important, is highly limited within the context of a complex environmental review covering surface and groundwater, soils, bedrock and geology, stormwater, air quality, habitat, and climate, among other areas of specialized knowledge and expertise. In past lead agency disputes on energy projects, the DEC Commissioner has pointed to the Department’s large staff of professionals with unique expertise in the many areas of potential environmental impact as favoring DEC lead agency. The same holds true for this project.
The rationales for NYSTA lead agency status and for co-lead agency are not compelling, and could undermine confidence in the SEQR review process. Twenty-nine villages, towns, cities and counties municipalities that are considered “potential involved agencies” have already expressed their opposition to NYSTA serving as lead agency and their strong support for DEC serving in this capacity instead.
We urge the Commissioner to designate the NYS DEC as lead agency to oversee the critical environmental review for this multi-jurisdictional project.
Neil Bettez, Supervisor
Daniel Torres, Deputy Supervisor
Jeff Logan, Councilman
Marty Irwin, Councilman
Julie Seyfert-Lillis, Councilwoman
Cc: Robert Megna, Executive Director of the New York Thruway Authority, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Treasury—Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline & Haz. Materials Safety Admin, N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, N.J. Department of Transportation, involved agency municipalities.
Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines – New York (CAPP-NY) www.stoppilgrimpipeline.com
For Immediate Release: December 11, 2015
As New York towns confront Pilgrim’s proposed pipelines, Pilgrim’s claim that pipelines would benefit climate called “whopper” by author, national climate leader Bill McKibben
In the past three weeks, at least fifteen towns and cities in New York State have made public, transparent commitments — the majority with unanimous votes at Board meetings — to oppose the New York State Thruway Authority’s attempt to act as Lead Agency for the environmental review of the proposed Pilgrim pipelines.
The cities of Albany and Kingston; the county of Ulster; and the towns of Athens, Bethlehem, Catskill, Coxsackie, Harriman, Newburgh, New Paltz, New Windsor, Plattekill, Ramapo, Rosendale, and Saugerties are now standing up to what Harriman Mayor Steve Welle called a “fox guarding henhouse” attempt by the Thruway Authority to fast-track approval for Pilgrim pipelines’ permit.
Pilgrim has recently tried to head off this opposition with a press campaign claiming that their proposed crude oil and gasoline/diesel/jet fuel (refined products) pipelines would be “good for climate”—an assertion that has met with widespread criticism.
Well-known author and international leader on climate issues Bill McKibben said of Pilgrim’s claim: “The idea that new oil pipelines would be ‘good for the climate’ is Orwellian. At this point, with the price of renewable energy plummeting, the thing that would be good for the climate, and consumers, is an end to new fossil fuel infrastructure designed to extend the oil age a few more decades. We know from the recent Exxon revelations that oil companies don’t always tell the truth, but this one is a whopper.”
Jen Metzger, Rosendale Town Board member, said, “Pilgrim’s analysis completely ignores the most significant climate impacts of their proposed project: These pipelines would add capacity to refine more and more crude oil, not just for east coast markets but for export, encouraging continued growth in fossil fuel consumption and its dangerous impacts on the global climate.”
Metzger pointed out that the rationale for rejecting these pipeline is no different from the federal government’s decision to reject the Keystone Pipeline: The pipelines would encourage expansion of GHG intensive fuel products for the long term, undermining our role as a leader in moving to a low-carbon economy.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that introducing new crude oil infrastructure with a 100-year life span to New York State is completely at odds with New York State’s energy goals,” Metzger continued.
Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper’s Director for Cross-Watershed Initiatives, said that Pilgrim’s premises on climate are incorrect on two levels: “One, building the pipelines would not mean that barge traffic would come off the river. There is no guarantee, nothing that would require it. If the crude oil export ban is lifted, crude will continue to move by barge, rail and the pipelines (if they are built), leading to an increase in greenhouse gases associated with transport, NOT a decrease!
“Two, Pilgrim’s study fails to count the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the oil that its pipelines would transport being burned! The greenhouse gas effect of building an expensive piece of fossil fuel infrastructure in the present that would last 50 plus years would lock us into taking that fossil fuel out of the ground and burning it decades into the future, decades of greenhouse gas emissions. Unless curbed, greenhouse gas emissions will drive our planet over the edge of climate change.
Hudson concluded, “Theoretical differences between the greenhouse gas emissions of various forms of transport evaporate in the face of the additional greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the inevitable burning of all the fuel transported by Pilgrim’s proposed pipelines.”
Thus far, fifty-eight towns in New York and New Jersey have passed resolutions which oppose the pipelines altogether. Copies of the resolutions, along with Pilgrim’s maps of the project, FAQs, and news, are here: www.stoppilgrimpipelines.com
I am grateful for activists everywhere who stand up for justice, peace, and for the earth.
News in recent days has led me to reflect upon the commonality of the lived experience of fear, sadness and defiance — the lack of safety and the sense of betrayal — whether you are a Black student at the University of Missouri who finds an image of a lynched Black woman hanging on your door as a “joke,” or whether you are a resident of Paris, reeling from recent attacks and steeling yourself for the potential for more as COP21 approaches. Whether you are a resident of Mali, a resident of the U.S. who happens to be a Muslim, or an undocumented person living in the Rio Grande valley, at the core of these experiences is vulnerability, body and soul.
Perhaps you are a Chicago resident linking arms, again, at a peaceful, angry, determined #BlackLivesMatter rally after the release of the video showing that 13 of the 15 seconds of shooting at a living teenager, 17 years old, took place while he was lying on the ground, helpless, shot in the back: an execution.
Or perhaps you are a Minnesota activist who came to a Black Lives Matter rally only to find yourself running away from masked shooters, with your young son, who is shot and bleeding. And there in Minneapolis, a police officer, doing nothing to stop the violence, states, “That’s what you all wanted, right?”
No, dear man, dear police officer sworn to protect our safety, that is not what we wanted.
Not more death, more terror, more bullets and more blood.
Not more executions. Not more acts of violence, whether by police officers, fundamentalists, power-hungry sociopaths, oil and gas corporations, or anyone else.
The courage of every person who shows up in the flesh, linking arms to stand publicly for what we want, increases our safety, our collective commitment to decency, dignity, justice, and human rights.
Sure, activists aren’t perfect. Stupid, dehumanizing slogans have been chanted recently by protesters angry at police for so many killings. Activists are human too: sometimes perfectionist and sometimes sloppy; sometimes inspiring and sometimes flopping.
But the activists I know — and I know thousands — are generally people I see as the best of the best: creative, soulful, determined, smart, and unstoppable. Not every one of us is a Ken Saro Wiwa, a Wangari Maathai, an Aung San Suu Kyi, a John Lewis, a Julian Bond, a Tim DeChristopher or a Michelle Alexander. But we all matter.
So on this Thanksgiving, my thanks go to protesters, to the liberators everywhere working for peace, equity, and a liveable planet.
Energy and Activism
In the energy wars, protesters confront the rogue addicts and liars, the polluters and destroyers purveying the greatest violence against climate we have ever seen: Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries, the #2 and #1 funders of climate denial networks in the world.
Without a liveable planet, we can have no decency, dignity, justice, human rights or safety. Thank you, New York attorney general Schneiderman, for investigating Exxon’s role in burying research and funding climate denial. Thank you, exposers of Koch Industries for their even larger role in consolidating the sway of oil and gas profiteers at the expense of millions of lives.
Meanwhile, protesters have also mobilized in fabulously creative ways against extreme energy this year. To protect our climate, air, food, wildlife and health takes increasing resilience and energy — energy of the human kind. The First Nations people, in particular the Unist’ot’en Camp, who’ve moved not just their bodies, but their homes, to live 24/7 on the proposed route of an unwanted pipeline. The ferocious resistance to the Port Ambrose LNG export facility: we won that one! Landowners in Pennsylvania and West Virginia fighting desperate battles against Sunoco Logistics, whose Mariner East pipelines would export fracked natural gas liquids overseas from the Delaware River.
And thousands of New York and New Jersey residents who are fighting for their lives against the proposed oil and refined products “evil twin” pipelines proposed by Pilgrim Holdings, LLC. This “Keystone of the East” would triple the oil bomb trains coming into Albany in order for Pilgrim to profit from their Bakken Shale oil and/or, ultimately, tar sands dilbit pipeline.
Who are the principals in this little heard-of corporation? Two former Koch Industries leading executives are the President and Vice President of Pilgrim. The shady corporation has, among other things, filed their application to use the New York State Thruway Rights of Way for their proposed dirty, dangerous two pipelines — 356 miles of pipe — and then claimed that there is “no fire risk” from 356 miles of pipeline which they say would carry Bakken Shale crude southbound and jet fuel, gasoline, kerosene northbound between Linden, NJ and Albany, NY. In short, Pilgrim claims to have figured out how to make Bakken Shale oil and refined products… like magic! … non-flammable.
With such deep pockets, willingness to lie, and magical powers, it’s no wonder the hubris of Pilgrim Pipeline LLC has led them to propose the beginning of construction of their pipelines on April 1, 2016. The joke is on them: that is Fossil Fools Day. Their absurd construction timeline has them conducting “surveys” — you know, for easy to find things like endangered and threatened species in 6 counties of New York State alone — for a mere 5 days before commencing “clearing” — you know, vast and fast cutting of trees — on April 6th, 2016. April Fools, Pilgrim Holdings LLC: your pipelines will never be built.
Dispersed, Yet Collective
Because extreme energy projects are dispersed all over North America, few of the protest actions make the national news at all, unless it’s so massive, colorful, relevant and urgent — think kayaktivists confronting Shell in Seattle — that it actually makes the New York Times for a few seconds. But we know the work of confronting extreme energy is hard, continual, sometimes exhausting and, well, extreme. The Unist’ot’en people, or the people of Louisiana, can tell you that. Just like the work for #BlackLivesMatter, with life and death consequences depending on how well we do our change-agent work.
That’s why my thanks this year goes to protesters. Quiet or loud, episodic or relentless, using the multitudes of our bodies to tell our story or, in contrast, like the spoken word artist Prince Ea whose video, “Man vs. Earth,” has recently gone viral — telling the story of the multitudes with one powerful voice — I thank you all.
Facing Our History, Facing Our Future
In closing, here are two quotes — one looking backward and one looking forward. Perhaps it’s not coincidence that my gratefulness to activists starts with #BlackLivesMatter protesters, and solidarity with protesters — and moves to the activists in the fight over clean energy, which is to say the fight over whether we will continue to destroy the planet’s climate and life support systems, or change. Looking back, we see that we have never faced our past. Looking forward, we can still create a life-saving, positive future — but only if we face reality. So here in the facing reality department:
“Noam Chomsky sees it [Black Lives Matter movement] as a response to the unresolved consequences of slavery and racism dating back hundreds of years,” says Democracy Now host Amy Goodman on March 3, 2015:
“[Slavery] is a large part of the basis for our wealth and privilege,” Chomsky says. “Is there a slave museum in the United States? The first one is just being established now with a private donor. This is the core of our history along with the extermination and expulsion of the native population. But it’s not part of our consciousness.”
And the forward-looking quote is from Mark Jacobson on EcoWatch, from November 24th 2015:
“I hope that the 139 country roadmaps, together with a just-published grid integration study for the U.S., will give confidence to leaders of the world that going to 100 percent clean, renewable energy for all purposes will not only provide reliable power at low cost, but will also create 22 million more jobs worldwide than it will cost, reduce international conflict over fuels because each country will largely be energy independent, reduce terrorism risk by providing more distributed power, eliminate the 4-7 million air pollution deaths annually worldwide and eliminate global warming,” said Mark Jacobson, Stanford University professor and main author of the report.
Thanks to activists, there is hope. Hope is the wellspring of action. Sure, we can and must act when we do not feel hope. When I am on the frontlines, I’m often feeling something much closer to despair than to hope. But when I look at images of other activists all around the world standing up and demanding decency, dignity, equity, justice and a livable planet — they give me hope. May you receive the fullness of their energy, their commitment, their actions and their wisdom on Thanksgiving and beyond… I hope.
Come join the incoming tide of resisting fracking and all types of extreme energy extraction; promoting renewables, energy efficiency and climate justice; and building community! On Wednesday, September 16th, three extraordinary actions combine to show the shale gas and oil profiteers, converging that day at “Shale Insight” to promote a massive petrochemical hub in Philly, that they can’t take our communities, rural or urban, one drill bit farther into their destructive vortex.
Protecting Our Waters supports all three actions. Everyone who participates is standing up and shouldering, in Pope Francis’ words, the “grave responsibilities” we have to nature, to the poor, and to future generations. Please join us:
- From 7 AM until about 9:30 or 10 AM: Morning Action to Confront the Shale Industry’s Lies. Converge at Friends Center in Philadelphia, at the corner of 15th and Cherry Streets. All details below. Organized by EDGE; contact email@example.com
- 1:15 PM: Join Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT)’s Green Jobs Puzzle Action. Meet at 30th Street Station on the Market Street side. Demand that PECO change the energy justice equation in Philadelphia in a way that reduces climate change, provides jobs, and benefits low income communities and communities of color. All details here. This is a creative nonviolent direct action. ContactChris Baker Evens firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 5:30 pm – 7:30 + pm: Climate, Jobs and Justice: Our Moral Response to the Pope’s Urgent Message. This forum and vigil begins at Friends Center, 1501 Cherry Street, and proceeds to Love Park at 7:30 pm. All details below. Contact: Susan Saxe, who is speaking for Green Justice Philly: email@example.com
DETAILS: EVENING GATHERING:
Climate, Jobs and Justice is a forum and vigil in preparation for the Pope’s visit and in response to his call for action on climate change. Protecting Our Waters is joining with many other organizations to help promote this event. Susan Saxe, speaking for Green Justice Philly, will focus on stopping the fracking petrochemical hub here with its oil trains, proposed new NGL and gas and oil pipelines, and on stopping the expansion of PES, the oil refinery POW calls “Philadelphia Energy Suicide.”
Other speakers include:
- Clifton Bennett, Veterans for Clean Air, Sierra Club.
- John Braxton, Co-President Emeritus of AFL Local 2026, Faculty and Staff Federation of Community College of Philadelphia
- Sgt. Gerald Brown — Sierra Club Veterans for Clean Air volunteer
- Rev. Alison Cornish — Executive Director of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light (MC for the vigil)
- Anthony Giancatarino — Center for Social Inclusion
- Rabbi Julie Greenberg (MC for the forum)
- Jen Hombach — 350 Philly
- Gary Lytle — Sierra Club-Beyond Coal Philadelphia
Friends Center, 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia
5:30 pm Gathering, Refreshments and Forum at the Friends Center
7:30 pm Short procession to Love Park with vigil, speeches and prayer
Participate: Calls to action by faith leaders, activists, healthcare providers and labor leaders, along with some big, beautiful art! Co-sponsored by 350 Philly; GreenJustice Philly, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and light- Philadelphia Chapter; Physicians for Social Responsibility – Phildelphia; Shalom Center, Sierra Club Southeast PA Beyond Coal Campaign; Clean Water Action. Please RSVP by visiting: bit.ly/climatejobsjustice
DETAILS: MORNING ACTION Organized by EDGE:
“Banners and Bishops: Morning Action September 16th 7 am to Counter Shale Industry Lies”
While the spotlight shines on the Pope’s upcoming Philly visit, another event is keeping a lower profile. The Marcellus Shale Coalition (aka “The Frackers”) is back for a conference to discuss ways to turn Philly into a fracked fossil fuel hub, while maintaining a stranglehold on rural sacrifice zones. Families suffering health and environmental harms in the shalefields, and fracking companies operating in the red, tell us that fracking holds no promising future for Pennsylvania or elsewhere.
We’ll use our creativity to get the attention of our Representatives and show them that we won’t permit them to sacrifice our health and degrade our cities, towns, farms, and forests for the profit of a few.
Don your bishop hats and white gowns to honor the Pope’s encyclical message, and channel your holy light to illuminate the gas industry’s lies. We can all heed Pope Francis’ call to protect our only home.
When: Wednesday September 16th, 2015. Meet at 7 am at the Friends Center to get briefed on the action. We will then don our bishop hats and walk over to the Convention Center to greet conference attendees as they enter the conference for the first session (which is about building Philly out as a fracking dirty energy hub). Stay until 9:30am or 10am.
Where: The Friend’s Center on the NW corner of 15th St. and Cherry St. (1501 Cherry St.) Philadelphia, PA 19102
Action Visuals: Banners, Bishops, and Books (the Pope’s encyclical) to remind Philly politicians, public and the gas industry that we have a duty to protect our only home.
What to Bring: Wear white or bring a white gown. If you bring a sign make it in the form of a bishop hat or something that fits the theme.
Background: The MSC is hosting their annual conference, ‘Shale Insight,’ in Philly this year. They will be selling the idea of Philly as a northeast hub for fracked gas, shale oil, and fracked NGLS — natural gas liquids. They will also be talking about how to use government and university relationships to avoid regulation and oversight.
The MSC spends many millions $$$$$ on public relations campaigns to make fracking look good, regulation and oversight look bad, and to assuage the public from speaking out against fracking. (Oh, and they hire politicians’ family members to curry political favor).
We know that fracking harms: human and animal health, air, water, soil, farms, local democracy, and the public purse. Right now is a critical time to counter PR that misinforms the public about the damages caused by fracking. PA Governor Wolf promised regulation and oversight for unconventional gas drilling, yet
Pennsylvania remains the least regulated and least taxed state that permits fracking in the US. Gov. Wolf’s DEP has issued 1,304 new drilling permits since he took office.
Now Gov. Wolf is negotiating with Republicans to potentially sacrifice our health, future pensions, and state income from liquor stores for a tax on an industry that is in financial trouble due to costly operations and an over abundance and low price of gas. Fracking is not, and cannot be, done safely in Pennsylvania, in North Dakota, or anywhere. We need to halt fracking now.
Unlike the shale industry, we don’ts buy off politicians and their family members. We don’t have the wallet to hire expensive PR and legal firms. However, we do have our bodies, voices, spirits and creativity. We have successfully protected large swaths of PA, other states and countries from fracking. We can stop the build out of fracked fossil fuel infrastructure and prevent more devastation if we speak up and act out.
Morning Action Organized by EDGE: Encouraging the Development of a Green Economy
Protecting Our Waters organized Shale Gas Outrage, Blessing of the Waters, Freedom from Fracking Conferences and the Water Drive, with three press conferences, in Philly in 2011, 2012 and 2013. We helped build the urban-rural coalition, no easy task, across the Marcellus/Utica Shale region and beyond. Our commitment to solidarity with shalefields residents and to winning important fights against new fracking infrastructure continues and deepens. Each time they convene here, we protest the shale gas and oil industry conference, successfully raising awareness about the impacts of fracking, exposing industry lies, and showing leaders that we expect them to work for public good, not private profit. We look forward to seeing you at all three actions on Sept. 16th, 2015!
Public Forum Highlights Opposition to Crude Oil Fracking, Transport
March, vigil commemorates 47 killed in oil train explosion; advocates oppose proposed Pilgrim pipelines, unsafe oil trains, and Hudson River barges
Kingston, NY – Marchers carried banners reading “Will We Be Next?” to the railroad bridge over Broadway in Kingston early Thursday evening. There, mile-long trains carrying flammable Bakken Shale crude oil pass within a few feet of residents daily. Fifty marchers rang a bell commemorating the 47 people killed when an oil train carrying Bakken crude exploded, incinerating much of Lac Megantic, Canada, in July 2013.
Following the march, inside Kingston City Hall at a packed public forum, 175 people listened to ten leaders brought home the dangers of increasing crude oil transport through the Hudson Valley. In addition to opposing unsafe oil trains, and aiming to get oil barges off the Hudson River, the speakers and 17 endorsing organizations all oppose the controversial proposed Pilgrim pipelines. Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines-NY organized the forum.
Words of warning came from Kandi Mossett, Indigenous Environmental Network, North Dakota: “New York has wisely banned fracking. It would be equally wise to exercise serious caution on the transport of volatile crude and other fossil fuel infrastructure so the state does not host the next big fracking-related disaster. Take it from us: act now, before your communities become a toxic playground for oil and gas companies.”
“Over 300,000 people’s drinking water is at risk within New York State from crude oil transportation by rail, barges and tankers,” said Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper. “The proposed Pilgrim pipelines would threaten people and the environment across New York and New Jersey and would lock us into decades of additional fossil fuel development. We call on our elected officials and state and federal regulators to reject the dirty of energy of yesterday and join us in supporting the fastest possible transition to renewable energy, which climate change demands.”
Alderman Brad Will, of Kingston Common Council’s 3rd Ward, introduced the successful Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipelines in Kingston. He commented, “The proposed Pilgrim Pipelines pose an unnecessary environmental threat, and represent an outdated paradigm of reliance on fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources have enjoyed tremendous increases in capacity over the past decade, and represent our best hope for a cleaner, greener post-fossil fuel future.”
“The exponential increase in freight rail oil, gas, and chemical transportation compels municipalities, rail companies, State and Federal Rail Administration officials to work with communities on comprehensive evacuation and emergency preparedness plans,” Will added. “Railroads that cross through densely populated areas, sensitive waterways, and on old rails, bridges, and trestles, most urgently demand inspections and repairs – and strictly enforced speed limits.”
Chris Amato, staff attorney for Earthjustice, commented, “Within the past two years, the Port of Albany has been transformed into a major crude-by-rail hub handling over 3 billion gallons of crude oil annually. This massive increase is impacting neighboring communities, yet no environmental justice analysis has been done.”
“New York is in the cross hairs of the oil industry .We have become a conduit for fracked oil coming by rail out of North Dakota,” said Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “The oil industry threatens the safety of 25 million Americans living in the blast zone. Kingston sits right in the blast zone along with many other upstate cities. Unsafe rail cars, proposed Pilgrim pipelines, expanded barge traffic, and the possibility of adding tar sands bitumen to this mess is not the future New Yorkers want.”
Sue Rosenberg of Saugerties said, “The Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines joins this Week of Action against crude by rail. Transporting oil fracked in the Bakken Shale puts our communities in great danger. Bakken crude is toxic and volatile. Escalating train derailments, explosions, and pipeline leaks have poisoned waters and harmed public health. From the shale fields of North Dakota to the Port of Albany and through towns and communities along the Hudson, fracked shale oil puts us at risk and contributes to climate change. Our sustainable energy future will not get here fast enough if we keep using extreme fossil fuels like Bakken crude. Keep it in the ground.”
The packed program also included words of welcome from the Mayor of Kingston; a short film about oil trains by oceans expert, author and filmmaker Jon Bowermaster; an update on renewable energy initiatives in the Hudson Valley from Rosendale Town Councilmember Jen Metzger; questions, discussion, and action suggestions.
Background: Pilgrim pipelines would be drilled under the Rondout, Wallkill, Esopus, Ramapo and other New York and New Jersey rivers, putting waterways directly in the path of a major spill. Drinking water aquifers would also be at risk. Air would be impacted by toxic emissions of benzene and other carcinogens from pump stations along the pipelines. In the past five years there have been 1000 spills from oil pipelines in the United States.
Oil trains now threaten the lives of 25 million Americans living within the blast zone. Bakken shale crude oil is the most flammable, volatile oil of any crude oil on the planet. The combination of rickety infrastructure and tin-can rail cars (DOT 111 and 1232) adds to the danger.
Endorsed by: KingstonCitizens.org, Esopus Creek Conservancy, Citizen Action Kingston, Midtown Rising, End the New Jim Crow Action Network (ENJAN), Protecting Our Waters, Citizens for Local Power; Frack Free Catskills, Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines – Saugerties; Riverkeeper; Catskill Mountainkeeper; Concerned Citizens of Esopus; Sierra Club Hudson Valley; Sierra Club Mid Atlantic; Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, New Paltz Climate Action Coalition, Earth Guardians NY.
Background information is available on participating groups’ websites, particularly:
Citizens for Local Power
Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines
Protecting Our Waters
Pipelines Blow Up and People Die (Politico)
Pick Your Poison for Crude: Pipeline, Rail, Truck or Boat (Forbes)
Unsafe and Unnecessary: Oil Trains Threaten 25 Million Americans (Ralph Nader on Huffington Post)
Contact: Leah Rae, Staff Writer, Riverkeeper, 914-715-6821
Iris Marie Bloom, Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines-New York 845-687-7810, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wes Gillingham, Catskill Mountainkeeper 845-901-1029, email@example.com
Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipelines – Saugerties: Sue Rosenberg 914-466-0954, firstname.lastname@example.org
New Yorkers Against Fracking: Jess Mullen 917- 500-8923, email@example.com
This news blast is written by Jason Kowalski of 350.org. While hundreds of organizations worked on this issue, including tiny grassroots nonprofits like Protecting Our Waters and even smaller, unfunded grassroots organizations all over the country, we are proud to join in making climate front and central in our opposition to TPP. Stopping Fast Track is a human rights issue, a workers’ rights issue, a fundamental test of our commitment to justice and to protecting all that we love: air, water, health, communities, climate.
So, from Jason:
Here’s a rare bit of good news:
Just minutes ago, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, was dealt a very big blow in Congress. It’s not totally clear what happens next — but the road to fast tracking this massive corporate power grab is now much harder.
The TPP was pushed back today for for one, simple, beautiful reason: people power.
Labor unions, human rights organizations, internet freedom advocates, climate activists, and progressives of all stripes threw their weight behind stopping this deal, and it’s working. We’re starting to be heard.
Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader, made the connection between this deal and climate change too. She publicly bucked enormous pressure, voting against a key component of the deal over concerns about the deal’s impact on climate change.
The coalition that is working together against the TPP looks a lot like the group of folks who marched together during the People’s Climate March last September. There’s a reason for that: the movement for climate justice is starting to build critical bridges to other movements for justice.
Today, that coalition showed that organized people can still beat lots of organized money. Because of thousands of climate activists and 350 local groups across the country who stood up and linked arms with fellow progressives, the TPP is on the ropes.
The TPP is an example of the wealthiest 1% working together against the rest of us — and the set back today is a demonstration of the power we have when the rest of us work together to fight back.
The final results of this fight are still unclear. Key aspects of the deal go up for another vote next week and we will continue to call on you for help. As always, it will be a fight — but I think we have a shot.