Rensselaer Residents Speak Out Against Pilgrim Pipelines
Rensselaer, New York “We have to put our foot down,” said Pablo del Gallego, who literally had the last word at the City of Rensselaer’s Public Hearing on the proposed Pilgrim Pipelines this Wednesday, June 15th. “Oil is on the way out. Being a taxpayer, homeowner, etc. here, I don’t like these pipes, they will break and fail,” Pablo predicted. Rensselaer’s Common Council listened closely, having organized the Public Hearing to “take the pulse” of the community.
Rensselaer Common Council meetings normally draw three to five residents, but
residents packed the small City Hall to speak about the Pilgrim oil pipelines. Common Council President Brian Stall called for those in favor of the pipelines to speak first, and only one resident spoke in favor, hoping for construction jobs. Another construction trade union representative spoke next, also in favor; he was not a resident of Rensselaer.
Then 16 opponents of the proposed pipelines spoke, and it became clear that Rensselaer is an environmental justice community whose residents are deeply fed up with polluting industries being imposed on them.
Environmental Justice Rensselaer Style
Michelle, who identified herself as living near the co-generation plant, as part of her testimony opposing the pipelines, said, “I ask you to stop these Pilgrim pipelines. But I can see why a lot of people have given up. I’m tired, my health is failing, the fumes affect me day and night. My doctor said, ‘you don’t smoke enough to have emphysema.’ I have to close the windows, I can only sit outside at best 3, 4 times a week. Now if these Pilgrim Pipelines come, do I have to get rid of my house? I can’t leave my house to my kids with all this smoke and pollution from the cogeneration plant and the asphalt plant.”
Former Ward leader Marion Webber spoke in opposition to the proposed oil and petroleum products pipelines which would be drilled under the Hudson River from Albany, under the City of Rensselaer waterfront and under the city itself, if permitted. “Most of our children have asthma,” she said. “If there’s any money [from Pilgrim], I hope Rensselaer turns it down. We need to think about our future. We need to protect our city so our children have someplace to grow up into!”
A Harvard analysis, “OIL: the Life Cycle Analysis of its Health and Environmental Impacts,” supports Marion and others who commented about health impacts.
Another Rensselaer resident commented, “I moved here eight years ago to enjoy the waterfront and raise my children. But now with the industrial projects, trucks are shaking the house– I can’t even keep pictures straight on the walls. Please protect our environment and our community!”
“Bakken Crude is Notoriously Degrading to Pipeline Infrastructure”
Louis Sebesta, a resident of Partition Street in the City of Rensselaer, declared, “I oppose the Pilgrim Pipelines. They would carry Bakken crude oil, which is extremely corrosive and volatile. Bakken crude is notoriously degrading to pipeline infrastructure, leading to higher risk of pipeline leaks. And the construction alone would be devastating to our already hurting community. The trucks would be thundering, booming, dusty and degrading our already damaged air quality.”
Regarding the jobs argument, Louis said, “These jobs are boom-bust short-term jobs which go to out of town workers, pipeline jockeys, from the South and from Texas. And green jobs are highly labor intensive, unlike fossil fuel jobs. Green jobs are the jobs of our future.”
Many people, including Kate Hudson, Director of Cross-Watershed Initiatives for Riverkeeper, testified about the physical dangers and the extreme threats posed by drilling two pipelines– one would carry crude oil, and one would carry refined petroleum products — under the Hudson River twice.
“Pipelines spill three times as much oil as oil trains,” commented Hudson. “And oil trains would increase in order to service these pipelines. That affects Rensselaer because Rensselaer is within the blast zone for an oil train explosion.”
Kate Hudson pointed out that new pipelines leak at a tremendous rate: “The Keystone pipeline leaked 35 times in its first year of operation.”
Regarding the likelihood of leaks from the Pilgrim pipelines, Hudson said that “a 168,000 gallon leak is the best-case scenario,” based on the flow of oil and refined products through the pipelines. If not stopped instantaneously in the unlikely best-case scenario, she said, “the pipeline will be leaking at a rate of 357,000 gallons per hour.”
A Rensselaer resident put it poetically: “I believe the river is a gem to be protected, not a resource to be exploited.”
Rensselaer resident Deborah testified, “We are just starting to bring people back to the waterfront. Why put our river, our waterfront and our city at risk?”
Voices Not Present: “Your Children and My Grandchildren”
A crew of downriver Pilgrim pipelines opponents, including this blogger, walked the parks, cafes, streets and sidewalks of Rensselaer for several days prior to the hearing. The blue-collar community members’ most frequent response to the hearing invitation emerged, “I’m working two, three jobs. I’m working that night.”
In the face of a tough series of losses this community has already endured, the strong turnout and lively testimony at the hearing gave heart to residents who don’t feel their voices have been heard in the past. “OK, let’s have a meeting!” urged Marian, the former ward leader, on the sidewalk after the hearing. “Let’s decide what we’ve got to do!”
Some made phone calls or wrote to the Common Council to make their views known. Rensselaer is directly across the Hudson River from the City of Albany, which voted 9:0 in favor of the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipelines on May 16th, just one month before Rensselaer’s hearing.
The two cities are part of the Capitol District; their fates are linked. So Jeanette Rice, a resident of Rensselaerville across the river from Rensselaer, wrote the Common Council on June 15th to make sure they understand that climate matters:
To the Common Council, City of Rensselaer,The Pilgrim Pipelines proposal is contrary to the PSC plan to have NYS’s energy supply to be 50% fossil free by 2030. Your children and my grandchildren need to be protected from the impacts of climate change by your responsible actions. PLEASE reject the Pilgrim Pipeline proposal! Please take responsible actions and transition from fossil free fuels NOW.Remember all the explosions from this Bakkan oil. Please do not be rolled over by the promise of money/jobs when clean water, air, soil, life are at stake.We are coming up on the 3rd anniversary of the explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec where 47 people were incinerated. Please DO NOT support this horror for Albany and Rensselaer. It is your responsibility.Just as we transitioned from sea oil to land oil in the 1850s, we are well beyond time to transition from land oil to renewables.Thank you.Jeannette P. RiceRensselaerville
On Wednesday night, June 15th 2016 in the City of Rensselaer, home to Monolith Solar and Garelick Farms among other successful businesses, it was Pablo del Gallego, sixteenth to testify, who had the last word.
“Look upon the future, not just one day, one year, ten years,” he told the Common Council. “We have to look further than that. We have to put our foot down.”