While virtually every government entity through which the proposed 178-mile petroleum products Pilgrim Pipeline would run called for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, not the state Thruway Authority, to serve as the lead agency for its state-mandated environmental review, on Monday it was announced that both entities will serve as co-lead agencies.
“After careful consideration, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has requested, and the New York State Thruway Authority has agreed that DEC and Thruway will serve as co-lead agencies for the environmental review of the Pilgrim Transportation of New York, Inc.’s application currently pending before the Thruway Authority,” read a statement issued by the DEC. “As co-lead agencies, DEC and Thruway will ensure that a transparent comprehensive environmental review process is completed prior to any final state or Thruway [Authority] approvals.”
Environmental groups and the 25 towns and four counties which called for the DEC to be the lead agency had hoped the DEC would evaluate environmental concerns more rigorously than the Thruway Authority, especially since the Thruway Authority would receive some kind of payment from Pilgrim Pipeline, but no figures have been divulged. Overall, the price tag of the pipeline, which would carry 200,000 gallons of crude oil from Albany to refineries in Linden, N.J. and finished petroleum products the other way, is estimated at about $550 million. The proposed route is mostly along the Thruway right-of-way, but includes some private property.
In the DEC’s letter to the Thruway Authority proposing the arrangement, the agency gives an overview of what it sees as significant environmental impacts the pipeline will bring.
“[The State Environmental Quality Review] process for the project will be extensive and complex due to the myriad of issues likely to be raised, the number of involved state and local agencies, and the demonstrated public interest in the project,” reads the letter. “The longitudinal occupation of the Thruway for 116 miles means that potential adverse environmental impacts are likely to be experienced over a wide area of the state. The department has significant experience and expertise in managing complex SEQR proceedings, directing the preparation of comprehensive, regional environmental impact statements (EISs) and managing input from a multitude of stakeholders and involved agencies. 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 water bodies and wetlands.” There would be, the letter further states, “232 crossings of regulated streams over the 116 mile occupation of the Thruway.”
In the Thruway Authority’s letter to the DEC accepting its proposal, Executive Director Robert J. Megna promised a thorough and open review. “The Thruway Authority and the DEC will work closely with and coordinate with all involved agencies, both state and local, to ensure that all environmental impacts associated with the project are assessed in a transparent and comprehensive manner,” the letter reads.
The announcement set off a gush of negative reaction.
“The City of Kingston was quite explicit that the Thruway Authority should not be involved as lead agency for the environmental review of Pilgrim’s proposed pipelines, and we voted unanimously to demand the DEC instead,” said Ward 1 Alderman and outgoing Common Council Majority Leader Matt Dunn in a statement posted on the KingstonCitizens.org website. “We will continue our robust opposition to these pipelines, which contradict our commitment to safe healthy energy, and which would put the Rondout, Esopus, Hudson, and other critical waterways at risk, with no benefit to our residents.”
“The DEC’s involvement in the environmental review process is critical to ensure that both the environment and public health and safety will be properly assessed,” said Catskill Mountainkeeper Programs Manager Jessica Roff. “We are, however, disappointed that the DEC will share the lead agency role with the Thruway Authority. Given that the Thruway Authority stands to make a substantial amount of money through potentially leasing land to Pilgrim for the pipelines, we have significant concerns about this conflict of interest.”
Stated Scenic Hudson, the dual lead agency plan “could undermine the thoroughness of examining major potential environmental and public health impacts that could result if the pipeline is constructed.”
Stated Hayley Carlock, Scenic Hudson’s director of environmental advocacy, “Getting it wrong on this project could imperil the health, economies and private and commercial properties along a huge section of the Hudson River. With stakes this high, it’s no surprise that nearly all of the villages, towns, cities and counties along the proposed route joined Scenic Hudson and environmental allies is clearly calling for the DEC to manage the environmental review.”
“The three cities who are ‘involved’ in this proposal – Kingston, Newburgh and Albany – all rejected the Thruway Authority’s request,” said Rebecca Martin, Executive Director of KingstonCitizens.org in a statement posted on the group’s website Tuesday night. “We count on the DEC to uphold their responsibility to protect the environment and our public, and a co-lead in an environmental review process is not a good compromise,” the statement read. “From what I know, it is an unprecedented decision and in my opinion, the Pilgrim Pipeline proposal is the wrong project to test out a shared leadership role. We need the lead to be fully unbiased and do not accept one that shares to gain monetarily in anyway. How is the public to trust that it isn’t tainted otherwise?”
In a statement, Conor Bambrick, air and energy director for Environmental Advocates of New York, said the state’s ambitious goals for renewable energy should be weighed while reviewing the project.
“Gov. Cuomo has committed to achieving very aggressive climate pollution reduction goals. Reducing carbon pollution 80 percent by 2050 means that in just 34 years there will be no more fossil fuels burned in New York,” stated Bambrick. “As the state’s environmental watchdog, the DEC will be responsible for approving or denying this project based on a variety of factors, including whether New York can meet its climate goals with the ongoing development of a fossil fuel infrastructure. We expect that — as the federal … assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline showed — new fossil fuels and climate action are incompatible.”
When asked by a journalist if she thought the dual-review plan was a “Solomonic” attempt to, in a sense, “split the baby,” Jennifer Schwartz Berky, Kingston’s incoming county legislator, said the ancient king’s wisdom exceeded New York State’s. “Solomon was wise: his decision was meant to elicit a response that would reveal the faulty claim because he didn’t have enough information to make the right decision,” she said. “We, in contrast, have plenty of information, unless we think that the claims of the 25 ‘involved’ parties have no validity. Compromises are not always wise and this is not a wise decision.”
“We are disappointed that DEC did not take the strong recommendation of more than two dozen towns and counties, up and down the Hudson River Valley, to be the sole lead agency,” stated Kate Hudson, director of cross-watershed initiatives for Riverkeeper.