- OPED: Cuomo Needs to Reject Port Oil Heating, Pipeline Projects

The following OPED was published May 31, 2016 in the Albany Times Union.

Cuomo needs to reject port oil heating, pipeline projects

It is decision time for Gov. Andrew Cuomo on two potentially disastrous projects that could call the Capital Region home.

An oil heating facility at the Port of Albany, and the Pilgrim Pipeline, both serve one purpose: moving crude oil through our communities and off to the global market as quickly as possible. The weight of these two proposals cannot be ignored, as the pipeline and the port are part of a grand scheme we can easily call "Oilbany." Simply put, approval would stake the state capital's role as a global oil shipping hub for years to come.

There are many reasons Cuomo should reject both, not the least of which is that either would compromise his climate and clean energy goals.

The governor's plan to generate half of our electricity from clean renewables by 2030, and end all fossil fuel use by 2050, has garnered global attention. Indeed, these goals are a game-changing undertaking. With federal politicians like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellDonald Trump and even Capital Region native Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, acting to block or undo progress in curbing greenhouse gas emissions, fulfilling the commitments of the Paris Climate Accords rests increasingly with state governments.

Expanding fossil fuel infrastructure cannot occur.

Here's some history: Two and a half years ago, Global Partners LLC's plan to develop the oil heating facility at the port came to light. Lax oversight at the time by the state Department of Environmental Conservation resulted in the issuance of a faulty permit based on the idea that enabling a tremendous increase in the transshipment and consumption of the world's most dangerous crude wouldn't carry a negative environmental or health impact.

But one year ago, the DEC announced a course correction. However, it never followed through, industry sued, and courts say a decision must be made by mid-June.

Although it has recently softened, crude oil train traffic has increased more than 4,000 percent since 2009, even without the Port of Albany facility or Pilgrim Pipeline. Meanwhile, the real world effects of oil consumption are piling up.

According to the American Lung Association's 2016 "State of the Air" report, 25 million Americans live with impaired lung function — conditions exacerbated by air pollution (in New York, 34 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, and another 21 percent come from power producers).

The economic costs are also growing; extreme weather events can result in the loss of life and cost billions in damages, but the hurt is felt in even less obvious ways. New York's ski industry, for instance, supports 13,000 employees and attracts more than 3 million visitors annually; increasingly unpredictable weather patterns place livelihoods dependent on that revenue at risk.

By the way, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies says there is a 99 percent chance that 2016 will unseat 2015 as the hottest year on record.

In the last year, Cuomo and his team have undertaken a thorough vetting of both projects. Just as they did with their decision to ban fracking, they are following the science, reviewing the data and better understand the consequences of these proposals as a result.

Additionally, there is new leadership at the DEC. Soon after acting Commissioner Basil Seggos was nominated, DEC was added to co-lead status on review of the Pilgrim Pipeline, meaning the project must undergo assessments on climate impacts, how environmental justice communities are affected, as well as wetlands protections and other considerations.

These are welcome developments. Big Oil is an industry that does not like being told "no." But the facts are that the Pilgrim Pipeline and port oil heating facility will hurt our climate, emit harmful pollutants into our air, pollute our water and place lives at risk. Cuomo can build on his legacy by keeping his climate and clean energy promises. That requires the rejection of both proposals.